Can Dominic Thiem keep winning, or will fatigue overtake him? He faces Albert Ramos-Vinolas in the Chengdu Open quarterfinals at 8.30pm local time (1.30pm BST.)
It's quite incredible, really. Has a man ever been more in love with tennis than Dominic Thiem, breakthrough star of 2016? Less than a month ago, after exiting the US Open via retirement, the Austrian acknowledged that his heavy schedule – which had often seen him playing competitions several weeks on the trot – needed addressing. It was all the way back in June that the star first admitted to feeling fatigued. Nevertheless, it looks like the French Open semifinalist is waiting until next season to make some tweaks to his calendar. In the three weeks since Flushing Meadows finished up for another year, two week have seen Thiem on the entry list for an ATP tournament.
What keeps him going? A desire to finish strongly, for one thing. A victor over Rafael Nadal on clay and Roger Federer on grass, it would be a massive shame if Thiem – a four time ATP title winner this year – could not finish this most impressive of seasons on some sort of high. The standard of his game and the consistency of his results currently have the 23-year-old ranked no. 7 in the Race to London, with a spot at the prestigious ATP World Tour Finals tangible.
But this does not mean that the one-handed-backhander is playing tennis at full strength. Indeed, while he toughed out some good victories in Metz last week, Thiem's fluctuating energy levels were highlighted against quality final opponent Lucas Pouille. The Frenchman himself experiencing a personal best season – his sometimes lethal game seeing off Rafael Nadal in the fifth set tiebreak in New York – but is less consistent and, often, less effective than the current world no. 10. Thiem at full strength would not have allowed their clash for the trophy slip away in straight sets.
Yet here Dominic Thiem is again, as a wild-card, going all-out once more in Chengdu – for 250 ranking points, at most. And the former world no. 7 has got off to a winning start in China, with a 6-4 6-4 dismissal of Di Wu – also a wild-card into the main draw. The result took a mere one hour and seven minutes of Thiem's time – although he failed to save the only break point he faced. Still, the rest of his statistics were pleasing. Can Spain's Albert Ramos-Vinolas possibly halt his run?
Seeded no. 5 in Chengdu, Ramos-Vinolas is at a career-high world no. 31 in the official ATP rankings. This is thanks mainly to results such as a quarterfinal in Roland Garros – where he beat Jack Sock and Milos Raonic before falling to defending champion Stan Wawrinka – and a title victory in Bastad. Nevertheless, the 28-year-old entered Chengdu having lost six of his last seven matches, and desperately needing a rediscovery of form.
So far, he could be finding that missing standard. Tricky qualifier Michael Berrer was a tough opener, but Ramos-Vinolas overcame the German 6-4 5-7 6-3. This likely yielded much mental benefit for the 28-year-old, who won another tight clash against the experienced Chinese Taipei player Yen-Hsun Lu: 7-6(4) 3-6 6-4. But in Dominic Thiem, the seasoned Spaniard will face – by far – his most advanced opponent yet. In their first ever meeting, can he make any kind of impact?
Dominic Thiem and Albert Ramos-Vinolas duel for a spot in the ATP Chengdu Open semifinals on Friday at 8.30pm local time (1.30pm BST.)