WASHINGTON, June 5, 2018 (by Michael Dickens)
Going into his French Open quarterfinal match against No. 2 seed Alexander Zverev Tuesday afternoon on Court Philippe Chatrier, Dominic Thiem summed up the feelings of many Austrians and Germans when he said during one of his recent press conferences, “I think that’s the match-up most of the fans in Germany and Austria were hoping for when they saw the draw.
“It’s going to be great. He’s an amazing player,” said the seventh-seeded Thiem in describing Zverev, ranked No. 3 in the world. “I mean, probably now the third-best after Rafa (Nadal) and Roger (Federer). So, it’s going to be an amazing challenge for me.
“I think for me, it’s time to move on to make a great step, because I’m turning 25. I’m not that young anymore.”
While Thiem and Zverev, the world’s top two players under the age of 25, squared off on a cloudy, humid day and played under slow and heavy conditions, one had to wonder if Zverev was ready to play for three and one-half hours or more, if needed. Could he remain healthy?
As it happened, Zverev unfortunately tweaked his left hamstring early in the first set against Thiem in their seventh career head-to-head clash. By the end of the match, which Thiem won 6-4, 6-2, 6-1, the 21-year-old German was a shadow of his usual brilliant self. The youngest quarterfinalist at Roland Garros since Juan Martín del Potro eight years ago, Zverev was hobbled and showed the fatigue of one who had persevered through three consecutive five-set matches on clay earlier in the tournament.
Thiem, who has won 25 of 30 clay-court matches this year, played intelligently throughout the 1 hour and 50 minute quarterfinal that earned him his third straight French Open semifinal berth. He took advantage of Zverev’s physical condition. The Austrian broke Zverev in the seventh game of the opening set and finished it with an ace to win 6-4.
In the second set, Thiem gained a 4-1 advantage thanks to some sloppy backhand errors by Zverev. At the change over following the fifth game, Zverev took a medical time out to get his left hamstring treated and wrapped by a trainer. One needed only to glance at Sascha’s facial expressions to see he was clearly frustrated by the hand he was dealt by the tennis gods on this day.
The third set followed a similar pattern to the first two as Thiem broke quickly and moved out to a 5-1 lead. Clearly, Zverev was unable to move about the court with any effectiveness. However, give Sascha credit for maintaining his bravery in the face of defeat. He continued courageously to the end. The crowd cheered him when he held serve in his final service game of the match and saved two match points before the inevitable conclusion.
Thiem was effective in winning 78 percent (33 of 42) of his first-serve points and nearly as effective with his second-serve point opportunities as he won 68 percent (17 of 25) of them. He converted six of 12 break points against Zverev and hit 25 winners. Meanwhile, Zverev won just 53 percent (34 of 64) of his first-serve points and a paltry 44 percent (11 of 25) of his second-serve points. He committed 42 unforced errors and failed to convert either of two break-point chances. Thiem outpointed Zverev 94-62.
“For sure, it was very tough for Alex today,” said a sympathetic Thiem during an on-court interview afterward. “I hope we have many more encounters in this state of a Grand Slam and even later when we’re both 100 percent.”
Calm, mature Keys reaches first RG semifinal
Madison Keys became the first American not named Serena Williams to advance to the semifinals of the French Open since 2004 as she toppled unseeded Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, ranked 98th, 7-6 (5), 6-4, on Court Suzanne Lenglen Tuesday afternoon.
Playing under cloudy and humid conditions following a morning rain, the No. 13 seed stayed calm, managed her emotions, and played maturely through her 1 hour and 24 minute quarterfinal win to reach her first semifinal on Parisian clay. She will face No. 10 seed Sloane Stephens of the United States on Thursday for a place in this year’s championship final.
Although the combative Putintseva, who was playing in her second Roland Garros quarterfinal, was up a break early in the opening set, she was unable to serve it out in the 10th game. Instead, Keys rebounded and won the set in a tie break, 7-5, with a powerful backhand winner. She won on her fourth set point, and first on her own serve. Then, the American broke Putintseva in the seventh game of the second set to go ahead 4-3 and never faced a break point on her serve. She hit a service winner on match point to secure her place in Thursday’s semifinals.
Keys won 31 of 37 point opportunities on her first serve (83 percent), hit 30 winners and outpointed Putintseva 68-61.
With Tuesday’s win, which moves her up to No. 10 in the provisional rankings, it continued the 24-year-old’s streak of straight-set victories during this Roland Garros fortnight. Through her first five matches, Keys has not dropped a set. She has advanced to the second week of nine of her last 11 majors, and the 2017 U.S. Open runner-up has now reached the semifinals in three of the four Grand Slams.
In an on-court interview with Justin Gimelstob of Tennis Channel after her win, Keys was asked what has enabled her to become successful on clay. “I think, you know, every year I always struggle to find the balance between playing my game and being just a little bit more patient,” she said. “So, I think this year I have definitely found that sweet spot, and I’m happy to be in the semifinals.”
Asked what she’s learned from other deep runs in majors, Keys said, “Managing my emotions. I was really nervous out there today. More, just knowing how to manage my emotions and to remember to keep moving my feet.”