(Photo credit: REUTERS/Sergio Perez)
Alexander Zverev, the second seed in Madrid, will look to lift a third Masters 1000 crown when he takes on Dominic Thiem, who is yet to win a title at this level, in the Madrid Open final. For Zverev reaching the final continues a fine run of form that has seen him reach at least the semifinals at his last four events, including in Munich where he lifted the title. Thiem’s form was patchy coming into Madrid, but he has played superbly at times this week. Who will be crowned champion?
Zverev and Thiem have met five times previously, and it is the Austrian who has enjoyed the match up most, claiming the win on four of those occasions. That included in their first meeting in 2016 in the semifinals of the Bavarian International where Thiem won in three sets after dropping the first. That makes him the last man to have beaten the German in Munich after Zverev was crowned champion in 2017 and 2018.
Thiem won again on clay in 2016, defeating the German in the final in Nice in the run-up to the French Open in three sets 6-4 3-6 6-0. In their third clay court meeting of 2016, Zverev again tasted defeat at the hands of Thiem as the elder man won in four at the French Open 6-7 6-3 6-3 6-3 in the round of 32. Thiem would go on to reach the semifinals (lost to Djokovic). Zverev got a measure of revenge in Beijing in October of that year, defeating Thiem 4-6 6-1 6-3. But it was Thiem who won their most recent encounter in Rotterdam last year, 3-6 6-3 6-4.
Path to the final
Both men received first round byes. That saw Zverev open his Madrid campaign against Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy. It was to prove a fairly comfortable outing for Zverev as he triumphed 6-2 7-5, as was his third round clash with Leonardo Mayer, who he defeated 6-4 6-2. He then impressed in defeating John Isner in straight sets, who had gotten the better of him in the Miami final, to advance to the semifinals. There he brushed aside Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov 6-4 6-1.
Thiem started in Madrid, where he made the final last year, in rather less convincing fashion. The Austrian dropped the first set against Federico Delbonis in their second round match and was forced to dig deep to turn the match around, eventually prevailing in three 5-7 6-3 7-5. Thiem then came perilously close to defeat against Borna Coric. The Croatian made a scintillating start, and served for the match up 6-2 5-4. But Thiem managed to get back into contention and won through 2-6 7-6 6-4.
That left him facing surely the toughest test currently in the sport: Rafael Nadal on a clay court. Just last month Nadal hammered Thiem in Monte Carlo at the same stage, losing just two games. Yet in Madrid it was the Austrian who emerged the victor, stunning the world #1 in straight sets 7-5 6-3 with an unrelenting barrage of attacking power. He then dismissed South Africa’s Kevin Anderson 6-4 6-2, with the big man’s vulnerabilities on a clay court ruthlessly exposed by Thiem.
How do they match up?
This match should provide a good battle between two men who at their best are amongst the best baseliners in the game. Both possess powerful groundstrokes although for Zverev it is his backhand that is his biggest strength whilst Thiem relies most heavily on his forehand. Both are also good movers although perhaps not amongst the elite defenders in the sport. Their serves are also powerful, if at times wayward, but both men will be well-aware of the importance of maintaining a high first serve percentage.
It will be interesting to see how often Thiem uses the drop shot in this match. His disguise on the shot is excellent, indeed, the stroke production is almost identical to his backhand slice. Against Anderson he was able to use it to great effect to disrupt the South African’s rhythm and draw him into the forecourt. Though Zverev is more mobile than the world #8, it would surely still serve Thiem well to deny the German rhythm from the baseline.
Zverev has not have dropped a set yet, but Thiem may well be feeling the more confident of the two heading into this match, despite not having won a title at this level before. He is the more natural clay courter, with the heavy topspin he generates on his forehand a mark of his pedigree on the surface. He has also won their three previous meetings on clay. Admittedly, Zverev has improved considerably since then, but so has Thiem. The Austrian to win title number ten in three sets.