After, in his words, a “horrible” ATP Cup, few would have picked Alexander Zverev to make a deep run, let alone first Grand Slam semifinal run at the Australian Open. But credit to the German. He took some speed off his first serve to reduce his risk of double faults and so far it’s paid off in a huge way.
The 22-year-old donated 31 double faults in three matches at the ATP Cup, whereas just 11 in five matches in Melbourne (plus he’s already thrown in $50K for the bushfire relief effort). He did benefit from a great draw the first three rounds but enters Friday off two really quality, comfortable wins over Andrey Rublev and Stan Wawrinka. And tonight he’s goes in with a real chance against Dominic Thiem.
Before I get into this second semifinal, a quick look back at last night.
As expected, it was Novak Djokovic rolling past a hobbled Roger Federer 7-6(1), 6-4, 6-3. I admire Federer for giving it a go but sadly there just wasn’t much to this match.
Federer did roar out of the gates, giving many hope. The hyper-aggression mixed with an excellent start serving seemed to catch Djokovic off guard. That is until the Serb rebooted and gained control late in the first. Djokovic has been nearly perfect in tiebreakers the last six months, and here was another example, and that was it.
How bad is this Federer injury? We just don’t have much information but he is scheduled for a charity match against Rafael Nadal in South Africa next week on Friday. Then he’ll be defending his title in Dubai later in the month. Hopefully it’s nothing serious because at his age even the littlest of things can become worrisome.
As for Djokovic, he now gets two days off (as if he needs it) before he meets Thiem or Zverev. He’ll be the big favorite either way, and rightfully so. He just doesn’t lose once he gets this far in Melbourne. So who will it be?
Dominic Thiem v Alexander Zverev
I know Thiem leads their head-to-head 6-2, but there’s not much to read into. Not many hard court meetings, Thiem’s won both in Grand Slams at the French which is what you would expect.
Thiem did beat Zverev indoors on a slick court at the ATP Finals last November. Zverev won at 2016 Beijing, their only outdoor hardcourt clash.
Both are playing well, both seem to be fresh and ready. Thiem has the experience — and he’s four years older — and has better wins in general having been torching the Big 3 of late (beat Djokovic at the French, now Nadal in Australia). So Thiem gets the edge there and I also give him the edge with the court. I think it’s a good speed for his heavy, penetrating groundstrokes.
But Zverev is 6-foot-6 and it feels like the pressure has come off of him a little after the rise of Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas last year. So that’s help and also helped motivate him, maybe. And now that he’s made a Slam semi, some of the weight has lifted.
Zverev has a big backhand, big game, decent serve and moves well. He’s good at just about everything, but maybe not great at any one thing. For him, though, he’s had issues staying mentally focused from set-to-set. That hasn’t been a problem.
Thiem has the bigger power so this will come down to how the Austrian plays. If he can stay up in court and pound away from the ground with this relentless forehand and backhand combo, he should win this. If he stands too far back behind the baseline, drops balls short, he will lose.
And I think racking up all these wins over the Big 3, having been to a Slam before and having maybe having a chip on his shoulder after the Muster mess, gives him the edge.
Thiem has also proven to be a big match player, Zverev isn’t there…yet.
The Pick: Thiem in 5
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