In a match that could ultimately have a real, if not decisive, impact on their careers, second seed Alexander Zverev, who is making his Major quarterfinal debut, takes on two-time French Open semifinalist Dominic Thiem. Both have provided Nadal with challenges during this clay court season, although only Thiem has beaten him. Both have also been touted as potential successors to the great man. But which man will take his place in the Roland Garros semifinals?
Despite their relative youth, Zverev and Thiem have already faced off six times in their careers in a head-to-head that the Austrian leads four matches to two. Thiem defeated Zverev in their first match which came in the Munich semifinals, with the Austrian’s 4-6 6-2 6-3 victory making him the last man to defeat Zverev in Bavaria. Thiem defeated Zverev twice more during that clay court season, in the final in the warm-up event in Nice 6-4 3-6 6-0 and in the Roland Garros third round 6-7 6-3 6-3 6-3.
That gave him a commanding lead in the rivalry. But the tables were turned a little by Alexander Zverev when the two met on the hard courts of Beijing later that year with the German winning his first match against Thiem, 4-6 6-1 6-3. Thiem then scored a fourth victory over the German in Rotterdam last year 3-6 6-4 6-3. But in their most recent, and arguably biggest match, in the Madrid final earlier this season it was Zverev who won, defeating Thiem 6-4 6-4 to win a third Masters 1000 title.
Path to the quarterfinals
To say that Zverev has endured a difficult route to the last eight would be some understatement. His tournament began gently enough as he defeated Ricardas Berankis 6-1 6-1 6-2. However, in the second round he was extended to five sets by Lajovic, eventually winning 2-6 7-5 6-4 6-1 6-2. He was again taken the distance by Damir Dzumhur in the third round, saving a match point along the way. He scored a third consecutive five set victory by defeating Karen Khachanov 4-6 7-6 2-6 6-3 6-3.
Thiem has also not found it entirely smooth sailing thus far. The Austrian began his tournament by defeating Ilya Ivashka of Belarus in straight sets 6-2 6-4 6-1. He then needed four sets to overcome the talented Greek teenager Stefanos Tsitsipas and also dropped a set against Italy’s Matteo Berrettini, winning 6-3 6-7 6-2 6-3. That left the Austrian facing a difficult challenge in Nishikori, but Thiem made fairly light work of it to again win in four sets, 6-2 6-0 5-7 6-4.
How do they match up?
Zverev and Thiem will both look to dominate this match with powerful groundstrokes from the back of the court. Zverev’s best is his backhand, a two-hander which though not as versatile nor as useful defensively as the likes of Djokovic’s, Murray’s and Nishikori’s, is struck just about harder than anyone else’s. Thiem’s favoured wing, in contrast, is his forehand, and the Austrian’s is plenty big enough to hit through anyone when he is playing well.
Thiem is a tough opponent on clay at the best of times. After three back-to-back five-setters he is a nightmare. The Austrian seems as though he is well-capable of running for days and to beat him an opponent has to do the same. Zverev, who it must be remembered is still just 21, almost certainly doesn’t have the legs to do so after the tournament he has had. It’s been a French Open of progress for Zverev, but that progress will come to a straight sets halt against Thiem.