Dominic Thiem takes on Karen Khachanov in the semifinals of the China Open, with ATP Finals qualification awaiting the world no. 5 if he can beat the Russian in Beijing.
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Top-10 players face off for a place in the China Open final as Dominic Thiem takes on Karen Khachanov in Beijing on Saturday.
Thiem is looking to reach the twenty-third ATP Tour-level singles final of his career, and his fifth of 2019 after Indian Wells, Barcelona and Kitzbuhel – which he won – and the French Open, which he lost.
But there’s something else on the line for the world no. 5 in Saturday’s semifinals – if he beats Khachanov to reach the final, he will succeed in qualifying for the Nitto ATP Finals. Thiem, who is trying to qualify for the season-ending championships for the fourth straight year, currently sits in fifth place in the Race to London behind the four players who have already qualified with a ‘live’ total of 4,025 points, and while he can’t overtake Daniil Medvedev in fourth place, reaching the final in Beijing will be enough to put him over the top.
Thiem has been looking for form this week after an underwhelming stretch of results which followed his decision to play Kitzbuhel on post-Wimbledon clay. He won the title, which clearly meant a lot to him on home soil, but he started the American hard-court swing in a rush, got sick and struggled to overcome the illness, which forced him out of Cincinnati and contributed to shock defeats to Thomas Fabbiano in the first round of the US Open and to world no. 163 Emil Ruusuvuori in Davis Cup.
The Austrian finally seems to have put the sickness behind him, however, judging by his performances at the China Open, at which he had an 0-2 record before this week. The top seed has yet to drop a set coming into the semifinals, beating Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-1, Zhang Zhizhen 6-3, 6-3 and finally Andy Murray 6-2, 7-6(3).
Thiem had actually never beaten Murray on hard courts before today, although he had done so on clay, and although Murray is clearly not his usual self at the moment – a ranking outside the top 500 speaks eloquently on that subject – he still had to play well to beat the British player, who defeated US Open semifinalist Matteo Berrettini in the first round for his best singles win since hip surgery. Murray, a little fatigued after having won back-to-back ATP Tour matches for the first time since January’s resurfacing operation, maybe wasn’t as good at hanging in rallies or able to play as patiently as he would normally try to do, but Thiem didn’t give him too many opportunities in a finely-judged performance of power tennis.
The only real blemish for the Austrian was a poor game from Thiem when serving for the match at 6-2, 5-4, when he double-faulted twice to be broken, but he managed to pull it together and dominate the ensuing tie-break to keep it to a straight-sets victory.
Thiem might not get away with that sort of wavering against Karen Khachanov, however.
World no. 9 Khachanov, one of two Russians to break into the top 10 this year, is not in contention for the Nitto ATP Finals – he’s down in 21st position in the Race to London, although he will rise after this week’s run – but he is trying to make a strong finish to a season that’s been patchy, as well as trying to bolster his ranking ahead of trying to defend his points at the Paris Masters where he won his maiden Masters 1000 Series title last year.
Khachanov, who got sick early in the season, struggled to make much of an impact for the first half of 2019, with his best results quarterfinal appearances at the Indian Wells Masters and at the French Open, where he ousted Juan Martin del Potro before falling in one-sided straight sets to Thiem himself. He had his best result of 2019 at the Canada Masters, where he scored excellent wins over Stan Wawrinka, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alexander Zverev before falling to Medvedev, and went on to beat Nick Kyrgios in Cincinnati. But he lost his following three matches, including first-round defeats at the US Open to Vasek Pospisil and in St Petersburg to Joao Sousa, and has only snapped that losing run this week at the China Open.
The 23-year-old Russian, who became a father for the first time last month, has played his way into the tournament, winning three of the four sets in which he beat qualifiers Pablo Cuevas and Jeremy Chardy in tie-breaks and then coming back from a set down to beat world no. 12 Fabio Fognini 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Fognini hasn’t been playing his best lately, but Khachanov did display good resilience to come back from a set and very nearly a break down, winning six of the next seven games on his way to victory, just the fifth he has scored in 2019 over a player ranked in the top 20.
Khachanov is a very dangerous player when he gets on a roll, and he won the only previous hard-court match the two have played, 6-4, 6-1 at the Paris Masters last year (when Khachanov was on the roll of his life, admittedly). Thiem handled him very easily at the French Open this summer, however, and the Austrian has been playing really well this week – and has every incentive to win, with ATP Finals qualification on the line. Khachanov’s big serve and forehand are formidable, but so is the power Thiem can generate from all areas of his game, and on the form he showed against Murray, he should be able to book himself a place in the China Open final on Saturday.
Thiem vs Khachanov China Open tennis is live from Beijing on Saturday at 4.30pm local/9.30am BST
Thiem vs Khachanov tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Thiem can qualify for ATP Finals by beating Khachanov in Beijing
Dominic Thiem takes on Karen Khachanov in the semifinals of the China Open, with ATP Finals qualification awaiting the world…
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