Thursday Preview: Thiem vs. Djokovic

Beating Rafael Nadal on clay is ample grounds for bragging rights and on Thursday, the two most recent men to have done so – Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem – will square off in the third round of the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

The reward for the winner of arguably the toughest of the third-round match-ups is a potential meeting with the 10-time champion and top-seeded Spaniard in the quarter-finals, should he find a way past Russian Karen Khachanov.

It was Djokovic who ended Nadal’s hot streak in the 2013 final after Nadal had won eight straight Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters titles. The Spaniard, has claimed 31 of his past 33 matches on clay, with those two losses coming to Djokovic in the Rome 2016 quarter-finals and to Thiem in the Rome 2017 quarter-finals.

“The matches are only going to get tougher. I’m going to just think about Dominic,” Djokovic said. “Last year at Roland Garros he beat me in straight sets. He’s definitely top-three player in the world on clay. He’s one of the best players in general.

“He’s coming off an injury himself… But he came back yesterday, I think match point down, and had a tough one himself. As I said, he’s a clay-court specialist. He’s someone that has a very powerful game and can play from inside of the court, back of the court, spin the ball, flatten it, hit a 220km/h serve, have an equally effective kick serve. He’s got it all, the entire game for clay. I’ve got to think only about that. It’s not the first time I have to face in earlier rounds some top players. I look forward to it.”

Djokovic leads his FedEx ATP Head2Head series with Thiem 5-1 however, the Austrian easily prevailed in their most recent clash, in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros last season. Fifth-seeded Thiem had not played since fracturing his ankle at Indian Wells, forcing him to skip the Miami Open presented by Itau before his Monte-Carlo return.

In his return to his favourite surface, Thiem saved a match point to deny Russian Andrey Rublev 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 on Tuesday. Ninth seed Djokovic, too, was forced to work hard, needing 10 match points to eke out a 7-6(2), 7-5 victory over in-form Croatian Borna Coric, after an earlier 6-0, 6-1 dismissal of countryman Dusan Lajovic.

Top seed Nadal will carry a 2-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head record into his third-round encounter with Khachanov in the match following Djokovic vs. Thiem on Court Rainier III on Thursday. In his first match since a quarter-final exit at the Australian Open, Nadal opened with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over Aljaz Bedene on Wednesday. The 21-year-old Khachanov did not drop a set in his first two matches over Thanasi Kokkinakis and Gilles Simon.

Third seed Alexander Zverev will continue his campaign for a second ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court title when he meets countryman Jen-Lennard Struff. Zverev, who owns a 2-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head record over the 29-year-old, struggled to a three-set result over Gilles Muller first up, while Struff defeated Yuichi Sugita and 13th seed Fabio Fognini.

In fourth seed Grigor Dimitrov’s only previous clash with German Kohlschreiber, the Bulgarian prevailed on the clay in Madrid in the first round last season. Both are bidding to reach their third Monte-Carlo quarter-final, with Kohlschreiber coming off an impressive straight-sets win over No. 15 seed and last year’s runner-up Albert Ramos Vinolas.

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