Thiem KOs Kei, Sets Zverev Blockbuster
For the second consecutive year, Dominic Thiem was the only player to defeat Rafael Nadal leading into Roland Garros. But it is safe to say that the 24-year-old would trade that in for a breakthrough in Paris. The Austrian is inching closer.
Thiem, the No. 7 seed, defeated in-form No. 19 seed Kei Nishikori 6-2, 6-0, 5-7, 6-4 on Sunday to advance to the quarter-finals on the terre battue for the third consecutive year. The eight-time clay-court ATP World Tour titlist has reached back-to-back semi-finals at the year’s second major, and will have an opportunity to extend that streak against No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev.
"I was playing very, very well in the beginning, had a great start," Thiem said. "I played good tennis. I think he rose his level in set three and four. But at the end I'm happy with how it went today."
Thiem is just the second Austrian — man or woman — to advance to the quarter-finals at a Grand Slam championship at least three times, joining nine-time quarter-finalist Thomas Muster, who triumphed at Roland Garros in 1995. The World No. 8 earned his 33rd match win of the season, trailing just his quarter-final opponent, Zverev, who won his third consecutive five-setter to claim his 34th victory of the year. The players nearest to them are top seed Rafael Nadal and World No. 6 Juan Martin del Potro, both of whom have 26 triumphs in 2018.
This year's Buenos Aires and Lyon victor is also now tied for second among Austrians with 16 match wins at Roland Garros, joining 2010 semi-finalist Jurgen Melzer behind Muster. The left-handed former World No. 1 held at a 32-13 record at the event.
But perhaps what stands out is that Nishikori, the former World No. 4 working his way back from a wrist injury, entered the match in strong form. The Japanese superstar reached his second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final in Monte-Carlo, before later advancing to the quarter-finals in Rome. And in the first two sets of their Round-of-16 encounter, Thiem completely dominated, hitting massive groundstrokes to seemingly stun Nishikori, putting the 28-year-old in a hole he could not dig out of. It took just 56 minutes to gain a two-set lead.
"I just wasn't there and maybe little bit nervous," Nishikori said. "He was hitting very deep. And I kind of lost what I had to do on the court."
But that was when the tide turned. Nishikori took a restroom break at the end of the second set, and came out refreshed, looking much more like the competitor who defeated Pune titlist Gilles Simon in the third round with the loss of just seven games. A slew of unforced errors late in the third set by Thiem allowed the Japanese to claw his way into the match and force a fourth. Thiem regrouped, though, hitting a massive inside-out forehand return that his opponent could barely get a racquet on to break in the seventh game, before closing out the two-hour, 28-minute win to get on the board in his FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry against Nishikori (trails 1-2).
"I didn't let him breathe in the first two sets. I played very well, and then I let him breathe a little bit, and that's why he became way, way stronger," Thiem said. "But at the end, it was very good that I won the fourth set."
Thiem's next match may be the most anticipated clash of the fortnight, as the Austrian faces Zverev in a rematch of the Mutua Madrid Open final, won by the German. Thiem leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 4-2.
"It's going to be a very tough match against him. He's going to be pumped. It's his first quarter-finals [at a Grand Slam]. So he wants to move on, for sure," Thiem said. "I hope I'm a little bit more experienced in this one.... I think the match, especially in Germany and Austria, [is what] everybody was hoping for. So I think we can make it legendary, and that would be very nice."
Did You Know?
Dominic Thiem is one of three players (also Nadal and Zverev) to win multiple ATP World Tour titles on clay in 2018. He has earned eight of his 10 trophies on the surface.