Dominic Thiem has come through one of his most challenging matches of the year to reach the semi-finals of the 2019 Mutua Madrid Open. The world number 5 has defeated none other than Roger Federer in three sets after 2 hours and 12 minutes, to have the chance of reaching the tournament’s final for the third year on the trot (3-6, 7-6 , 6-4). Although the world number 3 made things difficult for him, the recent Barcelona champion showed nerves of steel to come back and book a place in the penultimate round, where Novak Djokovic awaits.
Thiem came into today’s quarter-final as one of the only three active players with a positive return against Federer, together with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal (3-2 before the match, now 4-2). He won his only match on clay against the Swiss (Rome 2016, the ex-number one’s last on the surface until Madrid 2019) and the last they played (this year at the final of Indian Wells). However, he knew how dangerous Federer is, albeit on a surface where he may be slightly less so than the rest.
And that is exactly what the man from Basel was, breaking Thiem’s serve in the second set of the match and reaching 3-0 before holding his own without difficulty until he won the first set. However, Thiem has nothing if not courage and he simply needed to transfer his confidence on his serve to his return. He tried to do so with two chances to break in the second game of the second set (at 1-1) and with as many as three in the seventh (3-3), but Federer saved them all. Neither player was willing to budge an inch. But the best was yet to come; a breath-taking tiebreak in which Thiem needed six set points before finally levelling the match, but not before Federer let slip two match points and a 3-0 lead. All of this added up to a simply spectacular 13-11.
Once in the decider, and having foregone a chance to break in the first game of the set, Thiem struck first with a break that gave him a 2-1 lead. However, Federer bounced back immediately to produce his own break (4-4). But Thiem wanted the match more and was now firing on all cylinders. He followed Federer’s break with another of his own (5-4) and served out the match to book a place in the semis. In striking contrast to the 42% of total points won in the first set, he increased this figure to over 50% in the following two. Federer will lament not having joined the select group of players who have beaten Thiem on clay this year (Dusan Lajovic, Laslo Djere and Diego Schwartzman).
On the other hand, Novak Djokovic sealed his passage to the Mutua Madrid Open semi-finals for the sixth time in his career. The Serb progressed without setting foot on court after the withdrawal of Marin Cilic before his match in the Caja Mágica. The Croat announced his absence – before playing in his 20th FedEx ATP Head2Head with Djokovic – on Twitter, where he explained his situation.
“Marin is a first-class player and a good friend of mine. He sent me a message saying that he wasn’t feeling very well”, recognised Djokovic. “I hope that he can recover for [the Internazionali BNL d’Italia next week in] Rome. For my part, it was a question of warming up and being ready for the next match. When I returned to the court, I trained for another hour and had a good session. I’m happy to be fresh for my semi-final match tomorrow”.
The ninth seed, Cilic, won three three-set matches en route to the quarter-finals in Madrid this week, coming through four match points against Martin Klizan in the first round, followed by victories over Jan-Lennard Struff and Laslo Djere.
Djokovic, Madrid’s champion in 2011 and 2016, will now play his 62nd ATP Masters 1000 semi-final against fifth seed Dominic Thiem, the runner-up at the last two Mutua Madrid Opens.