Dominic Thiem followed up his sensational win over the top ranked Rafael Nadal of Spain with another hard fought win over the German Alexander Zverev in four sets at the first grand slam of the year to enter the third grand slam final of his career where he faces the daunting task of toppling the seven time champion Novak Djokovic who, as expected, proved too strong for the Swiss Roger Federer on Thursday.
Thiem, seeded fifth, became only the second Austrian to enter the last four stage in Melbourne. Thomas Muster, winner of the French Open in 1995, reached the last four stage in 1989 and 1997. Thiem got off to a hesitant start as he dropped serve thrice in the opening set after he and Zverev split service breaks in the first two games of the match. Thiem then broke serve in the third game but Zverev pulled it even at 3-3 in the second set as he broke serve in the sixth game only for the Austrian to go one break up in the seventh game. Thiem survived two break points in the tenth game but evened the match at one set apiece as he won 6-4 in the second set.
In the third set it was Thiem who got the early break in the third game, only for Zverev to break in the sixth game. Zverev then squandered two set points in a lengthy tenth game and in the ensuing tie-break Thiem dominated the German and won the tie-break 7-3. Neither player faced break point in the fourth set, and in the inevitable tie-break that followed, the Austrian who won three tie-breaks against the 2009 champion Nadal, once again got two mini service breaks winning the tie-break 7-4. The match lasted three hour and thirty four minutes as he prevailed 3-6,6-4,7-6(3),7-6(4).
The win improves his head to head against Zverev to 7-2, but more significantly Thiem enters his third grand slam final, having lost to Rafael Nadal in the last two years French Open at the Roland Garros in Paris. He is 4-6 against Novak Djokovic but has won four of their last five meetings, including the gruelling five set semi-final at the French Open and in the round robin stage of the World Tour Final in London where he lost to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the title clash. Zverev out served Thiem by 16-10 in the aces count.
As expected Novak Djokovic won the 50th meeting against Roger Federer 7-6(1),6-4,6-3 on Thursday evening. The 38 year Swiss got off to a great start breaking the second seeded Serb in the second game of the match. Djokovic broke back but Federer broke again on the fourth game and then staved off three break points for a 4-1 lead. Federer had three break point opportunities for a 5-1 lead but Djokovic erased them and from there on the Swiss superstar who had played two five set matches against John Millman and Tennys Sandgren faded completely as he lost serve to love when serving for the opening set.
He saved two break points in the eleventh game but in the ensuing tie-break it was all Djokovic as he got three mini service breaks and won it 7-1. In the second set Federer wasted two break points in the third game and then one more in the seventh before Djokovic broke serve in the tenth game to take a two sets lead. One break of serve in the sixth game of the third set was all Djokovic needed as he extended his head to head record to 27-23 against Federer.
In the ladies section of the draw both the favourites Ashley Barty and Simona Halep suffered shock defeats at the hands of Russian born American Sofia Kenin and the Spaniard Garbine Muguruza respectively. Barty had three break points in the sixth game of the first set but Kenin survived, then Barty won the eleventh game on her fourth game point and in the tie-break had a set point at 6-5 in her own serve. The 21 year old Kenin took the next three points to claim the tie-break 8-6. Barty got an early break in the third game but again wasted two set points serving at 5-4 in the second set. She then fell behind 0-40 in the twelveth game but saved two match points before the 15th seeded Kenin won 7-6(6),7-5.
She next faces the 2016 French Open and 2017 Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain who came through with an identical scoreline against the third seeded Simona Halep of Romania. In the first set Muguruza got the first break in the seventh game but dropped her own serve at love when serving for the set in the tenth game. Halep then wasted two set points in the twelveth game and two more in the tie-break which the 32nd ranked Muguruza won 10-8.
From one all in the second set there were three consecutive service breaks as Halep took a 3-2 lead on her fourth break point in the fifth game. She then held before saving two break points in the sixth game. Muguruza then broke back in a lengthy tenth game on her fourth break point and sealed the match on her second set point on Halep’s serve in the twelveth game. She won the two hour seven minute match 7-6(8),7-5.
Djokovic is going for a record extending eighth Australian Open and his seventeenth grand slam title. Thiem will be looking for his maiden triumph at a major having lost in the finals to Rafael Nadal on the clay courts of Roland Garros in the last two editions of the French Open. Thiem beat Djokovic in the Semi-finals in Paris and also in round robin play in the World Tour Final and should he overcome early nerves will make Djokovic fight for the match. I would pick Thiem in five sets.
In the ladies section Kenin has won the only previous meeting but Muguruza has the experience of grand slam finals. This is a tough call but the tough American would be my pick in three sets.
– Rasesh Mehta [Rasesh Mehta is an analyst with the Tennis Galaxy. You can reach him at the email: email@example.com]