In a battle of the one-handed backhands, last year’s defeated finalist Dominic Thiem takes on Greece’s Stefanos Tsitsipas for a place in the Barcelona Open semifinals. It’s been a mixed season for Thiem, as he once again failed to make it past the fourth round at a Slam other than the French Open. He missed Miami through injury before being humbled in Monte Carlo by Nadal. Tsitsipas, meanwhile, has shown an impressive aptitude for the clay, but faces a big step up in quality against Thiem. Who will come out on top?
Thiem and Tsitsipas have met twice already this year, with Dominic Thiem having won both matches. Their first match came in Doha in the quarterfinals, with Thiem victorious 7-5 6-4, though the Austrian was forced to retire before his semifinal with eventual champion, Gael Monfils. Thiem again triumphed in the second round in Indian Wells. The pair split the opening two sets, with Thiem winning the first and Tsitsipas the second, but Thiem’s experience showed in the decider as he won in three.
Path to the quarterfinals
Thiem, seeded third in Barcelona, enjoyed a first round bye. That saw him begin his tournament against the young Spaniard, Jaume Munar. Munar is ranked 174th in the world, but is expected to have a bright future in the game, and played well early on against Thiem, forcing a tiebreak. But after Thiem won it, the match got away from Munar, and he won just one more game. Thiem’s second match, against Slovakia’s Jozef Kovalik, followed a similar pattern, with the Austrian winning 7-6 6-2.
Tsitsipas opened his Barcelona campaign against the teenaged French qualifier Corentin Mounet, winning comfortably 6-4 6-1. The Greek then scored a very impressive victory against Diego Schwartzman, dismissing the Argentine 6-2 6-1, to continue Schwartzman’s poor run of his form. His own fine run of form also went on, as he defeated 10th seeded Albert Ramos Vinolas in straight sets, 6-4 7-5 to advance to his second ATP quarterfinal of the year.
How do they match up?
Both players are attacking baseliners, boasting powerful groundstrokes. What has held Tsitsipas back so far, though it is, of course, still very early in his career, is his tendency to go for too much and consequently hit too many unforced errors. However, when the Greek is zoned in, as he has been so far this week, he is a formidable opponent indeed. His backhand, particularly, has looked a real asset so far this clay court season, with Tsitsipas taking full advantage of the extra time afforded by clay.
Thiem is no stranger to power from the backhand side himself. The Austrian has one of the most powerful one-handers on Tour, and is able to take the ball down the line with the shot to good effect. His forehand, however, is his best shot. Able to hit it with a variety of spin, as well as plenty of power, it is a real weapon for the 24-year-old. Like all good clay courters, he is able to use angles well, and will surely look to use them to good effect against Tsitsipas.
Tsitsipas has been magnificent so far this week. Wins against Schwartzman and Ramos Vinolas on a clay court are very creditable indeed for the teenager. But he faces a step up in quality against Thiem, one that will be too far. Thiem hasn’t quite hit the heights this year and will likely be smarting from the thrashing Nadal handed to him in Monte Carlo. But he is still an excellent, and increasingly experienced, clay courter and he will have too much for Tsitsipas.