(Photo credit: REUTERS/Sergio Perez)
In a clash between two men separated by just one place in the rankings, world #7 Dominic Thiem takes on world #8 Kevin Anderson. Thiem is looking to return to the final in Madrid after reaching the title match in the Spanish capital last year, which was his first final at Masters 1000 level. Anderson, though a Slam finalist, had never before won a Masters quarterfinal, losing his previous ten. But who will find themselves in Sunday’s final?
The pair have met six times previously, and somewhat surprisingly considering Thiem’s higher ranking, Anderson has won all six meetings. The first came more than four years ago at the Australian Open in the second round, with Anderson advancing a 6-4 6-3 6-4 winner. When they met again later that year in Tokyo, Anderson again won in straight sets 7-6 6-4. In 2015, Anderson won a third round encounter at the US Open, 6-3 7-6 7-6, upsetting Andy Murray in the next round.
They faced off again later that year in Bercy in the round of 32, with Anderson advancing after an exceptionally tight match, which finished 6-7 7-6 7-6 in his favour. Anderson claimed victory number five when Thiem was forced to retire trailing 1-4 in Toronto in 2016. He triumphed in their most recent match in Washington last year, winning another close battle 6-3 6-7 7-6. However, they have never met before on clay, Thiem’s most successful surface and Anderson’s least.
Path to the semifinals
Thiem began his Madrid campaign in the round of 32 after receiving a bye. He faced an immediate test against Federico Delbonis, one that became all the more difficult when he dropped the first set. But he recovered to level the match and edged out the Argentine in the decider seven games to five. That earned him a place in the third round where Borna Coric waited. The Croatian has had a fine season, highlighted by reaching the last four in Indian Wells and the quarters in Miami.
He made the better start, dominating Thiem in the first set and winning it for the loss of just two games. When he broke through in the second, he looked to be heading for the win and served for it at 5-4. But Thiem fought back to level the set and then the match, before winning it in the decider. In the quarterfinals he faced Rafael Nadal, who had won 50 sets in a row on clay. But Thiem delivered an incredible performance to stun the world #1 and advance 7-5 6-3.
Anderson, who also received a first round bye, opened in Madrid against Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin. It proved to be a real battle for the South African, but ultimately his quality told as he advanced a 5-7 7-6 6-2 victor. He was then made to work hard for a straight sets win over Philipp Kohlschreiber, defeating the German 6-3 7-6. Anderson then conquered Dusan Lajovic, who had upset Juan Martin del Potro in the previous round, in three sets 7-6 3-6 6-3.
How do they match up?
As evidenced from their previous six matches, which featured eight tiebreaks, neither man is likely to surrender serve easily. Anderson, at 6’8, is one of the tallest men on Tour and possesses the serve to match. He has struck 45 aces already this week, including 15 in his match against Lajovic. But whilst his serve is his biggest weapon, Anderson is a capable ball striker, and both his forehand and backhand are generally solid shots, with the former the more dangerous of the two.
He will need to be if he is to overcome Thiem. The Austrian demonstrated what a formidable arsenal he has at his disposal in his victory over Nadal. He was willing throughout to strike first, and did so to great effect. There are few players indeed who have managed to hit through Nadal on a clay court, a feat Thiem has now managed three times. He is capable of striking both his forehand and backhand with real venom, and Anderson will have to ensure he does not give Thiem to many opportunities to do so.
Though Anderson has won their previous six encounters, Thiem is rightly the favourite going into this one. Anderson has a respectable record on clay, having made one final on the surface and twice featured in the last 16 at Roland Garros. But unlike Thiem, he is not a natural on the red dirt, and against a clay courter of Thiem’s class that will see him found out. Though at least one tiebreak is likely, it will be Thiem who reaches the final.