Thiem Wins Physical Test Over Djokovic
“Every win is important, especially against such a great player as Novak,” said Thiem. “It’s the quarter-finals now, so it’s only getting tougher… It was important for my self-confidence, to know I’m physically 100 per cent again. It was a great win. Of course it’s important, but tomorrow is a new day.”
The Austrian, who may one day emulate the achievements of his countryman three-time former Monte-Carlo titlist Thomas Muster (1992, 1995-96), watched from the 1920s clubhouse after his media commitments as World No. 1 Rafael Nadal, the 10-time champion from Spain, beat Russian Karen Khachanov later in the day.
“It’s the ultimate challenge for everybody, to play against him (Nadal),” said Thiem. “For sure tomorrow, I have to raise my level again. I think I’m able to do that. If you do so, I’m going to have chances tomorrow. If not, I’m out. It’s pretty easy… Of course, I would have liked to have faced him later in the tournament. But the draw was a little bit unlucky for me, especially. Hopefully for him, as well, tomorrow.”
Djokovic dragged himself back from a slow start, trailing Thiem 0-3, and later saved three set points at 3-5, Ad-out and at 4-5, when Thiem was serving at 40/15. In the tie-break, from 1/1, the Serbian stepped inside the baseline at every opportunity to win six of seven points. At 2/6, Thiem, dressed in all black on a hot day, struck his second double fault of the 60-minute first set.
Thiem, well versed in long, lung-testing rallies on red dirt, saved one break point in his first service game, then played a patient game at 2-2, when Djokovic recovered from 15/40 only to hand the Austrian a break with a backhand error. Thiem grew in confidence after a tight sixth game and broke Djokovic once more for a 5-2 advantage.
With neither player giving anything away in the decider, it was Thiem who tested Djokovic’s fitness in the seventh game. A backhand into the net at deuce by Djokovic, handed Thiem a break points which he duly converted with a clever double – a low slice that forced Djokovic to lunge, followed up with a backhand down the line that left Djokovic lunging for.
At 3-5, Djokovic saved one match point with an unreturned serve, but Thiem clinched his second opportunity two points later when Thiem struck a mid-court backhand long. It was Thiem’s second victory over Djokovic, adding to his 7-6(5), 6-3, 6-0 win in the 2017 Roland Garros quarter-finals.
Thiem, a titlist in February at the Argentina Open (d. Bedene), is now 10-1 on clay in 2018 (19-4 overall). The 30-year-old Djokovic was hoping to reach the Monte-Carlo quarter-finals for the ninth time in 12 years.
Nadal leads Thiem 5-2 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, including four red dirt matches last year (Nadal 3-1).
Thiem said, “We had a great rivalry last year on clay. When we played the first match in Barcelona, probably nobody thought that it’s going to be many more matches in deep stages of the tournament. So I hope that tomorrow that it’s going to be, again, a start of a nice rivalry this year on this clay court swing.”