In a clash of the big-hitters, top seed Dominic Thiem of Austria will take on Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff for a place in the St Petersburg quarterfinals. Thiem has had another fine season, highlighted by his run to the final at the French Open in June and looks to be in good position to secure a spot at the Tour Finals for the third consecutive year. Stuff, meanwhile, has played some excellent tennis himself and has the weaponry to upend anyone. Who will come out on top?
This will be the third meeting between Thiem and Struff in a head-to-head the Austrian leads 2-1. But it was Struff who claimed victory in their first meeting which came three years ago in Auckland where he rallied from a set down to win 6-7 6-4 6-3 in the first round. Thiem had his revenge a year later in Monaco where despite a fast start from Struff, Thiem hung tough and emerged a 1-6 6-3 6-4 winner. He then beat Struff again last year in the first round at the Australian Open, 4-6 6-4 6-4 6-3.
Path to the second round
Thiem, as the top seed in Russia, received a first-round bye and thus has not yet taken to the court in St Petersburg. But he should be in good spirits after his excellent run at the US Open where he reached the quarterfinals. It was his first appearance in the last eight at a Major other than the French Open and he gave a good account of himself. Indeed, he pushed defending champion Rafael Nadal to the brink in a five-set thriller, but ultimately came up just short in a 6-0 4-6 5-7 7-6 6-7 defeat.
Struff, unseeded, began his St Petersburg campaign against Russian #3 Andrey Rublev in the first round. The match went with serve in the early going, but Struff struck late in the first set to take it 6-4. Neither man could make much headway in the second set which went to a tiebreak. But there Struff held his nerve and delivered some heavy blows to seal a 6-4 7-6 win and knock Rublev out of the tournament much to the disappointment of the Russian crowd.
How do they match up?
As mentioned above, both Thiem and Struff are huge hitters and as a result this match seems likely to be decided by who can deploy their big weapons most effectively. Thiem favours his forehand side, and he used that shot to good effect throughout his US Open campaign. He usually hits it with heavy topspin, but he is also comfortable flattening it out which should serve him well in the fast indoor conditions in St Petersburg.
Struff also prefers his forehand which is a hammer of a shot though it lacks the consistency of the Thiem forehand. Both men are also equipped with useful backhands, with Struff’s two-hander the more powerful but Thiem’s one-hander the more reliable. Struff was dominant behind his first delivery against Rublev, winning 88% of the points behind it as well as serving 18 aces. If he can find a similar performance from the line against Thiem, he will be hard to beat.
Though Thiem played some great hard court tennis in New York, he did so in very different conditions to those in St Petersburg. The courts at the US Open played slower and bounced higher than usual which suited Thiem perfectly. In St Petersburg he will not find things so much to his liking. He will also be up against a player in impressive form with Struff’s performance against Rublev one of his best of 2018. Expect the German to score another big win and oust Thiem in three.