Dominic Thiem & Alexander Zverev: The Rivalry
The players have different games — Thiem wields heavier groundstrokes and a two-handed backhand, whereas Zverev is backed by one of the best two-handed backhands in the sport. Those differences have made for fun rallies and close, compelling matches.
”We have no secrets from each other, we’ve played so many times, also on very special occasions. It’s a nice rivalry we have,” Thiem said.
ATPTour.com looks back at each of their previous matches, with Thiem leading their series 7-2. Only three of those matches have ended in straight sets.
2020 Australian Open SF, Hard, Thiem def. Zverev 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3), 7-6(4)
Zverev entered this match having broken through to his first Grand Slam semi-final, which was especially significant considering he had never made a major quarter-final outside of Roland Garros. The 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion entered the match in devastating form, having lost only one set in his first five matches.
But Thiem relied on his heavy groundstrokes — especially his one-handed backhand — and big-match experience to battle through. Despite losing the first set and facing two set points in the third set, the Austrian earned his third straight win against Zverev with a three-hour, 42-minute victory. The win also helped Thiem climb to a career-high No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.
“I felt nerves, having put in so much energy," said Thiem. "My stomach was rebelling a bit. I have it a little, when it’s close and a tough match. It’s not nice to play return games, when he’s hitting so many first serves. I didn’t have a look, really, in the fourth set… Thank goodness there is a tie-break in tennis, otherwise we’d still be playing."
2019 Nitto ATP Finals SF, Hard, Thiem def. Zverev 7-5, 6-3
Zverev won the biggest title of his career at The O2 in 2018, and he put himself two wins from retaining the trophy in 2019. But Thiem, who won the BNP Paribas Open earlier in the year, enjoyed a breakthrough season on hard courts, and showed his improvement on the surface against the German.
Thiem saved all four break points he faced, biding his time for the key moments in a straight-sets triumph.
“This is just a big, big dream coming true for me. It is one of the best tournaments all year, one of the most prestigious tournaments all year, and I’m getting the chance to play the final… It’s unreal to me,” Thiem said. “To beat the defending champion, a good player, an unbelievable player, this is always a great achievement and I’m very, very happy.”
2018 Roland Garros QF, Clay, Thiem def. Zverev 6-4, 6-2, 6-1
This was a breakthrough tournament for Zverev. Not only was it his first Grand Slam quarter-final, but he carried confidence into the match after beating Thiem just weeks earlier for the Madrid title. The question was: Did the German have the legs to take advantage of the opportunity?
It turns out he did not. Zverev won three consecutive five-setters to make the quarter-finals, while Thiem had only lost three sets in his first four matches. That combined with Thiem’s physical, heavy topspin-based game proved too tough for Zverev in a one-hour, 50-minute victory for the Austrian.
“He's one of the fittest guys on Tour, and even for him it's maybe a little bit too tough to play three five-setters in the first rounds of a Slam,” Thiem said. “I expected, somehow, that he [would be] a little bit tired, but still I'm happy how I finished the game. I let him run. I was doing what I had to do, and so I'm satisfied."
2018 Madrid Final, Clay, Zverev def. Thiem 6-4, 6-4
Not only was this the biggest match of the pair’s ATP Head2Head rivalry — it doesn’t get much bigger than competing in the final of an ATP Masters 1000 event — but a lot had happened in the 15 months since their previous meeting.
Since their 2017 Rotterdam clash, Zverev won his first two Masters 1000 titles, and he was the higher-ranked player at World No. 3. The German was not broken in the entire tournament, nor did he lose a set. He used an impressive display of aggression to dismiss Thiem in straight sets for the trophy.
"All in all, I'm just really happy with how I played,” Zverev said. “Obviously the altitude fits me a little bit with my serve, with how I play, with me playing a little bit more aggressive than maybe others. That definitely fits me. But I just feel confident and comfortable right now.”
2017 Rotterdam R32, Hard, Thiem def. Zverev 3-6, 6-3, 6-4
World No. 8 Thiem arrived in Rotterdam after a disappointing opening-round defeat in Sofia, looking to gain momentum. Zverev, meanwhile, was fresh off a title in Montpellier and pushing Rafael Nadal to five sets at the Australian Open.
But Thiem was far better behind his first serve — winning 77 per cent of those points compared to 61 per cent for Zverev — to take a 4-1 lead in their ATP Head2Head rivalry.
“He’s one of the best players in the world right now. He played an amazing match at the Australian Open against Rafa (Nadal), just won his second title in Montpellier, so it was a horrible draw for me,” Thiem said. “Even though I was 0-4 down I felt pretty good from the start of the match, I was hitting my returns well, used my slice smartly. Overall it was my best performance in a long time. For my confidence this is exactly what I needed, a very good match against a really, really good player.”
2016 Beijing R32, Hard, Zverev def. Thiem 4-6, 6-1, 6-3
Zverev earned his first win against Thiem in their first hard-court clash, rallying from a set down to do it. Thiem appeared poised to extend his lead in their series to 4-0, but Zverev won the final four games to earn his fourth Top 10 victory of 2016.
The German broke five times from 14 chances to secure his triumph after one hour and 52 minutes, and he’d beat Jack Sock in the next round to reach his fourth ATP 500 quarter-final of 2016.
2016 Roland Garros R32, Clay, Thiem def. Zverev 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-3, 6-3
Thiem and Zverev got to know each other’s games well in a very short period of time in 2016, playing three times in a month. Although none of those matches was completely one-sided, Thiem relied on his experience to win them all.
The Austrian was the favourite at Roland Garros, given this was Zverev’s first main draw appearance at clay-court major. The 22-year-old Thiem became the first man from his country to reach the fourth round on the Parisian clay since Jurgen Melzer in 2010 (SF).
"I knew already before the match that it was going to be a very tough one against such a great player like Sascha," Thiem said. "I think the little difference today was probably the three years' age difference."
2016 Nice Final, Clay, Thiem def. Zverev 6-4, 3-6, 6-0
Just two weeks after their first clash, these rising stars met in Nice. This time, a trophy was on the line.
Thiem was the defending champion, and he had no intention of relinquishing his crown, using his fitness to battle past the German.
"I spent about 12.5 hours on court this week, so I'm a bit tired," Zverev said. "Against a player like Dominic, who is one of the best clay-court players right now, you have to be at your best to beat him. There's not a lot of chances.”
2016 Munich SF, Clay, Thiem def. Zverev 4-6, 6-2, 6-3
World No. 49 Zverev, only 19, had a lot at stake in his first meeting against Thiem, who was World No. 15. The German was trying to reach his first ATP Tour final on home soil, and he was just two wins from claiming his first tour-level title.
But the Austrian erased eight of 11 break points faced and broke the teen six times to prevail in three sets.
“It's unbelievable how he plays at 19 years old,” Thiem said. “I lost the first set and then I changed a little bit... more slice, more drop shots, and I think this was one of the key points to win it.”