In a battle of the one-handed backhands world #8 Dominic Thiem takes on one of the bright young stars of the game Stefanos Tsitsipas, in the latest instalment of a rivalry that has already provided its fair share of thrills this season. Thiem, who has made the semifinals on his last two visits to Roland Garros, will be hoping to go even further this year. Tsitsipas, meanwhile, announced himself to the tennis world this clay court season, but has struggled over the past couple of weeks. Who will come out on top?
Tsitsipas and Thiem have played three times so far in their careers with all three matches coming this season. Their first meeting came in Doha in the first week of the season in the quarterfinals. Tsitsipas came into that match fresh from an impressive victory against Richard Gasquet, but despite a commendable effort was overpowered 6-4 7-5 by Thiem, although the Austrian was then forced to withdraw from his semifinal with Gael Monfils.
Their second clash of 2018 was at the year’s first Masters 1000 event in Indian Wells in the second round. It proved to be an entertaining battle between two fine shot makers, with Thiem’s experience eventually telling as he reached the third round a 6-2 3-6 6-3 winner. But Tsitsipas had his revenge in Barcelona where he knocked out Thiem in the quarterfinals 6-3 6-2 in what was probably the best performance of his career.
Path to the second round
Thiem arrived in Paris after a clay court season of mixed results, that had seen a superb victory over Rafael Nadal in Madrid, but also some disappointing early losses, particularly in Rome where he crashed out in the second round. But he put that disappointment behind him with an impressively dominant victory over Ilya Ivashka of Belarus. The Austrian’s opponent wasn’t able to lay a glove on him as Thiem advanced a 6-2 6-4 6-1 winner, at one point winning eight games on the bounce.
Tsitsipas began his Roland Garros against Carlos Taberner, a 20-year-old qualifier from Valencia who had defeated Yannick Maden, former French Open semifinalist Jurgen Melzer and Oscar Otte to reach the main draw. There was little to split the pair early on with Tsitsipas winning the first set 7-5 and Taberner levelling the match by winning the second on a tiebreak. But Tsitsipas gained the upper hand thereafter, with his serve perhaps crucial. The Greek hit eight aces to Taberner’s zero and won through 7-5 6-7 6-4 6-3.
How do they match up?
Both Tsitsipas and Thiem are naturally aggressive shot makers, although Tsitsipas relies slightly more on timing than Thiem, who seems to try and hit the cover off the ball with every shot. Both rely on their forehands to do most of the damage to opponents, although their backhands are dangerous attacking weapons in their own rights. Thiem is an excellent mover, whilst Tsitsipas fairly leggy gait disguises a very tenacious defender.
One crucial factor in this match could be their serving. Both possess powerful first serves, with Thiem well capable of reaching speeds of 140 mph with his first delivery. Against Taberner, Tsitsipas won an impressive 82% of the points in which he landed a first serve. However, he will be aware of the need to improve his numbers of first serves made, having missed 46% of the time. Thiem landed a better 65% of his first serves, and won the point a solid three out of four times.
Tsitsipas may have upended Thiem in Barcelona, but he was playing incredible tennis then and his levels have dropped off some way since. It’s also a fundamentally more difficult proposition to beat a one of the top ten over five sets than it is to down them in a best-of-three format. This may well prove a fairly closely contested match, but it would require a superb performance from Tsitsipas to win it, and its hard to see him delivering it. Thiem in four.