World No. 5, Dominic Thiem seeks consecutive wins for the first time since the Rogers Cup when he takes on Chinese wildcard, Zhizhen Zhang in the second round of the China Open on Wednesday.
Thiem entered the 2019 China Open still seeking his first ever match win at the tournament, while he had also never beaten first round opponent, Richard Gasquet in two previous attempts, but he produced his best performance in recent times to get off the mark in both fronts, outclassing Gasquet 6-4 6-0 to score his first victory over the Frenchman.
It was tight at the start, with the first nine games going with serve and featuring just the one break point, but once Thiem broke at 5-4 to take the opening set, he sprinted away with the rest of the match, winning the last eight games. The Austrian hit eight aces and lost just seven points on his first serve, while he didn’t offer up any break points throughout the hour and 20-minute contest.
“I was ready from the first point on, as I have had a lot of trouble from him in the past,” said Thiem. “I tried to avoid that today, I felt great from the first practice and it’s great to get my first win in Beijing. It’s one of the strongest tournaments, you can lose every match, but I was very good today.”
Victory moves Thiem closer to a spot at the Nitto ATP Finals, with the 26-year-old currently placed fifth in the race, and next in line to qualify for London. Should he make the Beijing final, he will join Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Daniil Medvedev as the players to have confirmed their spots in the year-end showpiece.
Thiem is seeking his fourth title of the season, having already claimed a maiden Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells, and won the clay court titles in Barcelona and Kitzbuhel in a typically productive clay-court season that also featured a runner-up finish at Roland Garros.
He struggled with a viral illness during the North American hard court season, pulling out of Cincinnati and crashing out of the US Open in the first round. He also suffered a surprise defeat to Emil Ruusuvuori in the Davis Cup and was not quite at his best at the Laver Cup, but has opened his China Open campaign on a very impressive note and will look to keep it going when he plays local wildcard, Zheng on Wednesday.
Zhang got his campaign underway with victory over struggling Brit, Kyle Edmund, winning 6-4 3-6 7-6 to secure just his second tour-level victory of the season.
The Chinese hit 12 aces against Edmund, winning 74% of points on his first serve and saving seven of eight break points as he condemned the world No. 34 to a fifth straight defeat.
Prior to Beijing, Zhang’s only previous tour-level win was in the previous week in Zhuhai, where he defeated Dominic Koepfer before falling to Andreas Seppi in a final set tie break. Zhuhai was also his first ATP Tour appearance of the season, as he had done all of his previous work on the Challenger Tour. His best result was a title run in Jinan in early September. So, he has been playing quite well lately, and will be looking to cause Thiem problems on Wednesday.
Currently at a career-high 213rd in the rankings, the Chinese is looking to reach just the second tour-level quarter final of his career, and a first since he made the last eight in Shenzhen in September 2017.
To do that, the 22-year-old will have to take down world No. 5, Dominic Thiem in what would by far the biggest win of his career. Thiem has been far from convincing in the last couple of months, but he looked a lot closer to his best in his first round victory over Gasquet, and if he can maintain that level of performance, he will be way too good for Zhang on Wednesday.
Dominic Thiem vs Zhizhen Zhang is live from Beijing on Wednesday, 2 October from 7:30pm local time/ 12:30pm BST