Dominic Thiem is coming off his first ever Grand Slam final appearance at Roland Garros earlier this month. He was defeated by Nadal, but the tournament marked the culmination of an impressive clay court season which also saw him win the title in Lyon and make the Madrid final, all in a month. The world #7 will be confident he can dispose of Mikhail Youzhny, with the Russian without a win at Tour-level since April. But he was once ranked as eighth in the world for a reason. Who will win?
Despite the fact that Thiem has been on the professional circuit for seven years and Youzhny since last century, the two have only met on one occasion. That match came back in 2016 in Stuttgart, and saw Thiem come through in a tightly fought three set battle. Youzhny took the first set 6-3, before the much younger Austrian overran him in the second and third set to win 3-6 6-4 7-5. Like the Halle Open, that match took place on grass.
Last time out
Thiem’s last tournament was Roland Garros, in which he had the best run of his career before being soundly beaten by the unstoppable force that is Rafael Nadal despite a valiant effort in the final. Along the way, he disposed of Kei Nishikori in four sets and world #3 Alexander Zverev in three, getting revenge for the defeat he took at the German's hands in Madrid. Immediately prior to that he won in Lyon, meaning his last two events have resulted in a win and a runner-up finish.
Things haven’t been as easy for Youzhny. He too played at Roland Garros, and was bundled out in five gruelling sets in the first round at the hands of Malek Jaziri. Since then, he has managed to sneak in another couple of tournaments, though neither resulted in any success. He was beaten in two tight sets by America's world #169 Kevin King in Surbiton, before being bundled out in the first round in Stuttgart by the net-rushing Mischa Zverev.
How do they match up?
Both of these players have powerful baseline games. Thiem is strong on both sides, boasting a heavy forehand and a strong single-handed backhand. He covers the court well, which will enable him to deal with Youzhny’s aggressive groundstrokes. His best surface is clay, something his recent successes serve as a testament to. But he has improved on grass since his arrival on Tour, reaching the last 16 at Wimbledon for the first time last year.
Youzhny, though well past his best, didn’t become a top 10 player by accident. Though he is strong on both sides, his one-handed backhand was once one of the best on Tour and remains a major strength of his. He has also played well on grass in the past, perhaps giving him an advantage in this match up. Expect this match to be a hard-hitting, baseline-oriented affair, and one of the few chances to see two powerful single-handed backhands in action.
Youzhny will be able to put up a fight because of the grass surface, but Thiem will still be too strong for the veteran. The match will be played largely from the baseline where both men are able to generate significant power, but it will be Thiem’s superior court coverage which will see him take care of Youzhny. The 35-year-old Russian may steal a set, but Thiem is playing some of the best tennis of his life and will win this one in three sets.