In what was a hotly anticipated potential clash when the draw threw it up at the start of the week, Dominic Thiem takes on Novak Djokovic for a place in the Monte Carlo quarterfinals. Thiem was the second best player on the clay last year and was the only man able to stop Nadal, defeating him in Rome in straight sets. Djokovic, a two-time champion in Monte Carlo, was long Nadal’s only threat on the clay, but is having to work hard to re-establish himself. Who will come out on top?
Thiem and Djokovic have met six times so far in their careers. It is the Serb who leads the head-to-head, having won five of those six matches. Their first meeting came in 2014 in Beijing at the China Open. Djokovic was comfortable, winning 6-3 6-4 and recorded another victory by the same score two years later in Miami, in what was the first of three meetings in 2016. He also won the other two, dominating Thiem 6-2 6-1 6-4 in the French Open semifinals before recovering from a set down to win in three at the ATP Finals.
They also met twice on the clay in 2017. Djokovic won the first in Rome in the last four 6-1 6-0 as he put in his best performance of the year to win his fifth consecutive match against the Austrian. But Thiem had his revenge in the French Open quarterfinals. On a windy day on Lenglen, Thiem destroyed a listless Djokovic. After recovering an early break, Thiem was dominant and was well worth the 7-6 6-3 6-0 win he recorded to reach a second successive French Open semifinal.
Path to the third round
Thiem enjoyed a first round bye as the sixth seed in Monte Carlo. He took to the court for the first time against the talented young Russian Andrey Rublev, who last year made the US Open quarterfinals. He also took the first set against Thiem, a late break deciding it in his favour. But the world #7 fought back impressively to turn the match around, winning the second and third sets by a score of seven games to five, after saving a match point in the decider.
Djokovic began his Monte Carlo Masters campaign in the first round for the first time since 2006. His opponent there was his countryman Dusan Lajovic. Against Lajovic, Djokovic seemed to have his old aura of invincibility about him, as Lajovic was perhaps guilty of giving the former world #1 too much respect. Djokovic took full advantage to win 6-0 6-1 and set up a meeting with Borna Coric, who has been one of the best players so far this season.
Despite Coric’s impressive recent form, the Croatian reached the semifinals in Indian Wells and the quarters in Miami, it was Djokovic who made the better start. The Serbian won four of the opening five games, only for Coric to fightback and level the set. Djokovic, however, clinched it in a tiebreak and looked in control when he went up a break in the second. Coric was on the ropes down 3-5 15-40, but fought back, saving nine match points over the next two games. But the effort seemed to take too much out of him and he lost the next two games to hand Djokovic the win.
How do they match up?
This may well for much of the match be a contest between Thiem’s offence and Djokovic’s defence. The Austrian is one of the biggest hitters on Tour, particularly on the clay, where the slower surface gives him more time to wind up his powerful groundstrokes. His forehand is his best shot, with the Austrian able to flatten out the shot when going for clean winners as well as he can hit it with heavy topspin. His one-handed backhand is also a formidable weapon.
Djokovic has been hitting the ball with more authority so far this week than he has in a while. He showed, for the most part, the willingness and ability to outlast Coric from the back of the court. He was also prepared to take the game to the Croatian, taking over 70% of his shots on the rise throughout the match. He would do well to do so again against Thiem. Much of his past success against the Austrian has come from pinning him behind the baseline with good depth.
This is an interesting test for both men, who have both seen their seasons disrupted through injury. But whilst Djokovic has been absent for much of the past ten months, Thiem has a little more match-toughness about him, particularly on the clay. And that is what will separate them in the big moments. The match should be a reasonably close affair, but expect the higher ranked man to clinch it in three sets.
Who do you think will win the match? Let us know in the comments below!