In a clash that pits against each other two of the most in-form players, seventh seed Dominic Thiem takes on 19th seed Kei Nishikori for a place in the French Open quarterfinals. Thiem, who has made the semifinals in Paris in the past two years, will be hoping that this is the year of his Grand Slam breakthrough. Nishikori, meanwhile, is making rapid progress as he attempts to return to the pinnacle of the sport. But who will come out on top?
Thiem and Nishikori have met twice so far in their careers with the Japanese having won both matches. They first met in 2015 in Halle in the first round where Nishikori dispatched Thiem in a hard-fought straight sets win 7-6 7-5. He then scored a second victory at the Austrian’s expense a year later in the quarterfinals in Rome, where he got the better of Thiem in straight sets again, winning 6-3 7-5, although he lost to Djokovic in the last four.
Path to the fourth round
Thiem began his quest for Roland Garros glory against Belarus’ Ilya Ivashka. The Austrian played an excellent match to brush aside Ivashka’s challenge, winning 6-2 6-4 6-1. He backed that up by claiming a third win in four meetings with Stefanos Tsitsipas, overcoming the Greek teenager in four sets, 6-2 2-6 6-4 6-4. He was again pushed to four sets in his third round match with Matteo Berrettini of Italy, but won through 6-3 6-7 6-3 6-2.
Nishikori overcame some early resistance from French wildcard Maxime Janvier to score a straights set 7-6 6-4 6-3 win in his first match in Paris. That set up a clash with Benoit Paire, the enigmatic and talented Frenchman. It was a close-run thing, but Nishikori ultimately did just enough to get the win in five sets 6-3 2-6 4-6 6-2 6-3. Nishikori then delivered a clinical performance to defeat Gilles Simon in straight sets 6-3 6-1 6-3.
How do they match up?
This will be a baseline battle between two of the best in the business from the back of the court. Thiem is the more aggressive of the two players thanks to the tutelage of his long-time coach Gunter Bresnik. His biggest weapon is his forehand and he will surely look to deploy it as often as he can to hit through Nishikori. He can also hit his backhand with real venom although it not is as dangerous as his forehand.
Nishikori lacks the outright power of Thiem although he still generates more pace off the ground than most. He is, however, a better defender than the Austrian. Not only does Nishikori move superbly, he has the quality to use the ball well even at the end of his range. His backhand is also one of the best in the sport, and the Japanese will likely look to use it down the line to exploit Thiem’s tendency to hit forehands from the backhand corner.
Both players have been tested already but have risen to meet those challenges impressively and look to be playing well. There’s also little to separate the two. But Thiem does have a little more in his locker at the moment in terms of fitness and match-sharpness and that should be just enough to tip the match in his favour. Nishikori will battle hard as he always does, and this could well end up being one of the matches of the tournament, but expect to Thiem to advance in five.