That poor record in Vienna, especially when compared to the excellent record of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – who won the tournament once and reached the final in 2016-17 – was just one reason that I thought Tsonga, who already has two indoor hard-court titles to his name in 2019, would win their first-round match on Tuesday; the Frenchman, moreover, had a 2-0 record against Thiem coming into the clash.
But they had not played since March 2016, and Tuesday’s match showed how much Thiem has improved in the intervening time, becoming a player of stature not just on clay – on which surface he has, of course, made the French Open final twice – but on hard courts, capturing his first Masters 1000 Series title at Indian Wells in March and claiming the fourth title of his season a few weeks ago on hard courts in Beijing at the China Open, a victory which secured him his place at the Nitto ATP Finals for the fourth straight year.
Thiem broke Tsonga in the seventh game of the first set and went on to take it 6-4, and although he was unable to capitalize on three break-point opportunities at 1-1 in the second set, or convert a break/set point at 4-5, he held five of his six service games in the second set to 15 and dominated the ensuing tie-break, in which Tsonga won just one point on serve, to win 6-4, 7-6(2) in two hours without facing a single break point.
The kind of serving numbers Thiem posted against Tsonga – seven aces, winning 80% of points behind his first serve and 62% behind his second – will serve him well against another tough opponent in Fernando Verdasco on Thursday.
It’s the 35-year-old Spaniard’s third appearance in Vienna, having played the Erste Bank Open for the first time in a decade last year and having a very good run when he did, beating Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Gael Monfils and Kyle Edmund to reach the semifinals before losing to eventual champion Kevin Anderson (injury has prevented Anderson from returning to defend his title this year).
Currently ranked world no. 40, with his top-10 days a decade behind him, Verdasco has not won a title since 2016 but has reached an ATP Tour singles final each of the last three seasons – although he will have to pull off something spectacular in Vienna or Paris if he is to keep that streak alive. Verdasco hasn’t made it past the quarterfinals of any tournament so far this year, although he’s had a couple of good results – most notably reaching the quarterfinals of the Rome Masters, where Thiem was one of his upset victims, and the fourth round of Wimbledon.
Since losing to Goffin in the last 16 at Wimbledon, Verdasco hasn’t won back-to-back matches in nine events and if he is to do so in Vienna it will require him to get the second top-10 win of his season – over the same opponent against whom he secured the first – and the 29th of his career.
Fortunately for Verdasco, he clearly knows exactly how to beat Thiem, having done so in all four of their previous meetings, including on indoor hard courts at the Paris Masters two years ago and this spring at the Rome Masters on clay, coming back from a set down. Thiem has a 58-30 record against left-handers and Verdasco and Rafael Nadal between them have accounted for most of those losses – certainly the ones that have come in recent years – but there’s clearly something about Verdasco’s immensely powerful forehand hammering Thiem’s one-handed backhand which doesn’t work for the Austrian. He solved his problem with Tsonga in the last round, but I’m not sure he is going to be able to do the same against Verdasco, who is playing with a point to prove after having been left out of the Davis Cup side.
Thiem vs Verdasco Erste Bank Vienna Open tennis is live from Vienna on Thursday at 5.30pm local/4.30pm BST
Thiem vs Verdasco tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Can Thiem find a way to beat Verdasco for the first time in Vienna?
Dominic Thiem will have to find a way to beat Fernando Verdasco for the first time in five attempts if…
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