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Federer vs Thiem tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Can Thiem stop Federer from winning record sixth Indian Wells Masters title?

Hannah Wilks in ATP Tour 17 Mar 2019
  • Roger Federer faces Dominic Thiem in the final of the Indian Wells Masters
  • Federer vs Thiem is live from Indian Wells on Sunday at 3.30pm local/10.30pm GMT
Roger Federer (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Dominic Thiem has improved so much on hard courts he’s into his first Masters final on the surface – but will it be enough to take down Roger Federer at Indian Wells?

Roger Federer is closing in on a record sixth Indian Wells Masters title as he faces French Open finalist Dominic Thiem in Sunday’s final.

Coming into the tournament, Federer was tied with Novak Djokovic for most Indian Wells Masters titles with five apiece, but despite the fact that Federer had made the final or won the title on his last two appearances it was the Serb who was the overwhelming favourite to break the deadlock and become the sole record holder.

Federer's last match was against Hubert Hurkacz in the quarterfinals (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Djokovic had not played since the Australian Open, however, while Federer had, capturing his one-hundredth career title as well as exacting a bit of revenge for Melbourne upon Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. Perhaps that was part of the reason why Federer survived the early rounds at Indian Wells while the top seed did not, making a shock exit at the hands of Philipp Kohlschreiber in the third round.

Federer has not dropped a set on the way to his ninth Indian Wells Masters title in wins over Peter Gojowczyk, compatriot Stan Wawrinka, Kyle Edmund and surprise quarterfinalist Hubert Hurkacz, with none of them even pushing him to a tie-break. 

Saturday should have been by far Federer’s toughest test as he took on Rafael Nadal for the 39th time, with the Spaniard – runner-up at the Australian Open where he showcased an improved serve and a more aggressive hard-court approach – leading their overall head-to-head 23-15 while Federer had won the last five. But the injury to the right knee of Nadal which first made itself known during the second seed’s 7-6(2), 7-6(2) victory over Karen Khachanov was not improved enough overnight to let Nadal play, and the left-hander pulled the plug after a limited 15-minute practice, announcing it just as the first semifinal began.

Federer took the court after the first semifinal had ended, but only very briefly to answer a couple of questions for the crowd before Djokovic good-naturedly stepped up to play some exhibition doubles.

A walkover like the one Federer received can disrupt a player’s rhythm, especially if the match was much anticipated – we saw how thrown Maria Sharapova appeared in her next match after getting a walkover from Serena Williams at the French Open last year – but this is probably less of an issue at a tournament like Indian Wells than a major, which follows a stricter rhythm. And ultimately, although it leaves Federer a little shy of the match fitness that would have come from facing a player of Nadal’s quality, it probably isn’t a bad thing for a man who is 12 years older than his opponent to have a half day off.

It will, of course, be 25-year-old Dominic Thiem who faces Federer across the net on Sunday as the Austrian makes another attempt to capture his first Masters 1000 Series title.

Thiem has already made two Masters 1000 Series finals, finishing runner-up in Madrid in 2017 and 2018, but he has never advanced so far at a hard-court Masters before and it must be said, it came slightly out of nowhere after a poor start to 2019 for the Austrian who had gone 3-4 in the first two months of the season, forced to retire against Alexei Popyrin at the Australian Open and losing two matches to players ranked outside the top 50 besides.

Dominic Thiem (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
There’s no denying that luck has been somewhat on Thiem’s side: The top seeds, Djokovic and Alexander Zverev, both crashed out of the top half of the draw while Kevin Anderson withdrew before it even began; he didn’t face the toughest opposition in early rounds, taking on Jordan Thompson and Gilles Simon, against whom he was (and remain) unbeaten; and like Federer, he benefited from a walkover in a late round, with Gael Monfils unable to take the court for their scheduled quarterfinal clash. Fourth-round opponent Ivo Karlovic, as well as he has been playing, is still on the shady side of 40, and semifinal adversary Milos Raonic has been outside the top 10 for a while.

That said, I was enormously impressed with the way Thiem played against Raonic and thought it was a fantastic performance. The Austrian protected his serve so well that he didn’t drop serve all match and faced just one break point, which came when he was serving for the match. After the first set, he was under far more pressure on his serve than Raonic was on his, which makes it more impressive that Thiem was never broken. 

That can be credited to a superbly disciplined performance which saw Thiem make just nine unforced errors throughout the match, only four on his forehand, while Raonic’s leaked mistakes at an alarming rate. It would have been unthinkable for Thiem to commit so few errors on a hard court against an opponent of that quality a few years ago; he would have been far too far behind the baseline, scrambling to try to hit winners from impossible positions. 

The discipline I’m talking about is not simply a case of not missing; it’s about forcing oneself to play in the right way and stay up on the baseline instead of dropping far behind it so that you can put pressure on your opponents without going for too much. Whether this is the influence of new coach Nicolas Massu or not, something was working very well for Thiem, who was near-perfect in the first set tie-break and might not have lost the second had Raonic not had a hefty dose of luck.

But making the final was, in so many ways, the easy bit. 

Federer and Thiem have played four times before and the head-to-head is poised at 2-2 – but that flatters Thiem’s chances in Sunday’s final quite a bit. The first three matches they played, two of which Thiem won, were in 2016 – the first half of 2016, before a struggling Federer took six months off. The only one they’ve played subsequently was a fairly crushing win for Federer. Moreover, the two Thiem won were on natural surfaces. Both hard-court clashes have gone Federer’s way in straight sets.

The conditions at Indian Wells, where the courts seem particularly slow and high-bouncing this year, does give Thiem a much better chance in this match-up, however, and it also helps that he’s toughened up by facing a big-serving barrage from Raonic (Federer’s serve is not the same as Raonic’s, but a similar kind of mental effort is often required to face it down). Federer, on the other hand, hasn’t played particularly well at Indian Wells; he just hasn’t really faced opponents who could punish him. I think Thiem might have a realistic look at a huge win here. 

Federer vs Thiem Indian Wells Masters tennis is live from Indian Wells on Sunday at 3.30pm local/10.30pm GMT

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Federer vs Thiem tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Can Thiem stop Federer from winning record sixth Indian Wells Masters title?

Roger Federer vs Dominic Thiem live streaming, preview and predictions for the Indian Wells Masters final on Sunday 17 March: Federer has never lost to Thiem on hard courts but the French Open finalist looks much improved on this surface

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