Read & Watch: Tenacious Thiem Through, Sets Kei Clash
Dominic Thiem has accomplished as much on clay as any 24-year-old could hope for. The Austrian has won eight ATP World Tour titles on the red dirt and beaten Rafael Nadal three times on the surface, for starters. But he has been unable to move past the semi-finals at Roland Garros, falling in the final four in Paris the past two years.
Thiem continued his efforts to take it one step further on the terre battue, defeating Italian Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-2 on Friday in two hours, 37 minutes to reach the Round of 16 at the clay-court Grand Slam for the third time in five appearances.
"He's a great player. Very dangerous. Great forehand and great serve," Thiem said of his 22-year-old opponent. "It was a good match again, I think, from both of us, and for sure he has a very good future."
The No. 7 seed did well to bounce back, competing for the third day in a row after darkness forced him to finish his four-set second-round match against #NextGenATP Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday. The Austrian broke six times (6/13) and won 40 per cent of return points to claim his 32nd match triumph in 2018, which ranks second on the ATP World Tour behind Alexander Zverev (33).
The fact that he had to battle was not a surprise for Thiem. The Austrian said his coach watched Berrettini when he beat 2014 semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis in a four-set second-rounder.
"He said that Matteo is a really good player," Thiem said. "I was expecting a very tough match."
His next opponent, Kei Nishikori, will be tough, too. The Japanese has had the crowd against him in his opening trio of matches. Three French home favourites up, three French home favourites down.
And while he might have disappointed the Parisian faithful for the third straight match, Nishikori advanced to the Round of 16 at Roland Garros for the fourth consecutive year. The Japanese superstar defeated former World No. 6 Gilles Simon 6-3, 6-1, 6-3.
"I think everything was working well from the beginning. It was long rallies, but I think he gave me a good rhythm. I was hitting good forehands and backhands crosscourt, down the line," Nishikori said. "I was happy. In the third set [it] took a little bit of time to win the match. But [I'm] very happy with my tennis today."
Nishikori is now 10-2 against players competing at their home Grand Slams, including a 6-2 record against Frenchmen at Roland Garros. It was an impressive two-hour, one-minute performance by the No. 19 seed, who was forced to battle back from two sets to one down against Benoit Paire just two days ago.
Despite getting a late start to his 2018 season due to a right wrist injury, Nishikori has quickly worked his way back to form on the red dirt. He advanced to his second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final on clay in Monte-Carlo (l. to Nadal), and reached the quarter-finals in Rome before falling in a tightly-contested three-setter against Novak Djokovic.
Nishikori was not broken in his first FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting against Simon, hitting 37 winners to cruise past the Frenchman. He will next battle clay sensation Thiem, against whom he has won both of his FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, including a victory on clay in Rome two years ago.
"I think this match is going to give me a lot of confidence, because I think I played what I wanted to play. I served well the past few matches, and everything worked well," Nishikori said. "I've got to keep my focus on for next one and try to keep my momentum going."