Thiem officially secured his place at the season-ending championships for the fourth year in a row when he came back from a set down to beat Karen Khachanov in the semifinals on Saturday. After the highs of winning his first Masters 1000 Series title on hard courts in March and another superb European clay-court season which included reaching the French Open final for the second straight year and a title at the Barcelona Open, Thiem has endured a poor stretch of results of late, following a grass-court ‘season’ that saw him lose the only match he played by winning the International-level title on home soil in Kitzbuhel but paying a heavy price when an illness heavily impacted his American hard-court swing.
After shock defeats in the first round of the US Open to Thomas Fabbiano and to a player ranked world no. 163 in Davis Cup, Thiem’s season looked like it threatened to fizzle out dramatically in the second half as it has done so many times before. But the Austrian has revived in Beijing. It seemed unlikely, given that Thiem had lost both his previous matches at the China Open, but he won his first three matches against Richard Gasquet, Zhang Zhizhen and Andy Murray in straight sets to reach the semifinals.
Up against Khachanov, Thiem had to display more resilience than he has done in previous matches this week. He had only been broken once in Beijing (when serving for the match against Murray, funnily enough), but was broken three times in the first set by Khachanov; in the second set, Thiem trailed by a break and Khachanov served for the match at 5-3 before the Austrian clawed his way back in and levelled the match, finally prevailing at the death after an early exchange of breaks in the decider when he broke Khachanov at 5-6 to claim the victory 2-6, 7-6(5), 7-5.
‘I’m really proud that I was fighting like crazy throughout the whole match because Karen was playing exceptionally well today,’ Thiem said. ‘Quality-wise it was the best of our three matches we had so far.
‘I have the feeling that until maybe one and a half sets or until 6-2, 5-3 for him, he was the little bit better player. I only came back into the match because I was fighting, because I was always believing that I can still turn it around. That feels great now.’
Into the fourth final of his season, Thiem awaits a sixth career clash with Tsitsipas – and the first this year, after the two played five times in 2018.
This will be the fifth final of Tsitsipas’s 2019 season after the Greek won 250 titles in Marseille and Estoril and finished runner-up to Roger Federer in Dubai and Novak Djokovic at the Madrid Masters, and he will be looking for the fifth win of his season over a top-10 player, having beaten Federer at the Australian Open, Rafael Nadal at the Madrid Masters and Alexander Zverev at the Madrid Masters and in the China Open semifinals.
Tsitsipas had to come back from a break down in both of his first two matches at the China Open, against Dusan Lajovic and defending champion Nikoloz Basilashvili, before getting the first straight-sets win of the week against John Isner in the quarterfinals. But while his victory over Zverev in the semifinals came in straight sets, it was absolutely anything but straightforward. The two men have never seemed particularly fond of each other, to put it mildly, but seemed to have effected a recent rapprochement when both represented Team Europe at the Laver Cup. That friendly spirit didn’t last long, with neither troubling to keep a very tight lid on their emotions. Zverev started off brilliantly, breaking to open and having points for a double break lead, but demolished his racquet after being pegged back on serve, while Tsitsipas was given a code violation for unsportsmanlike conduct for something the cameras didn’t catch.
The first set for Tsitsipas was all about weathering the storm, with the Greek consistently reaping the rewards of smart returning strategy as he not only retrieved another break from Zverev late in the set, but came back from 3-6 down in the tie-break, saving three set points, to take the opener. Quick to seize his opportunity as Zverev reeled, Tsitsipas raced to a 5-1 lead in the second set, but ended up being broken as he served for the match the first time before closing out the win 7-6(6), 6-4.
Zverev was furious, but the victory was a significant one for Tsitsipas, the first final he has reached since Madrid in May and pushing him closer to qualifying for the ATP Finals.
Thiem leads the head-to-head with Tsitsipas 3-2, all five meetings having come in 2018 when they played in Doha, Indian Wells, in Barcelona, at the French Open and in Toronto, Thiem winning in Doha, Indian Wells and Roland Garros, Tsitsipas in Barcelona and Toronto. It’s a tough one to call, with Thiem looking to leverage his offensive weapons and aggression against Tsitsipas’s more cautious, cagey tennis, but after his scrappy victory over Khachanov – and the way Zverev capitulated against Tsitsipas – I like Thiem’s chances to pick up his second hard-court title of 2019 in Beijing.
Thiem vs Tsitsipas China Open tennis is live from Beijing on Sunday at 7.30pm local/12.30pm BST
Thiem vs Tsitsipas tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Top-10 players battle for Beijing 500 title
With just two places between them in the rankings, top-10 players Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas do battle for the…
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