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Mutua Madrid Open: How Thiem battled past Federer to set up a semifinal clash with Djokovic

Published May 11, 2019
May 11, 2019 IST

A packed house at Manolo Santana witnessed some absorbing tennis for just over two hours as Dominic Thiem beat Roger Federer 3-6, 7-6(11), 6-4 in the Madrid Open quarterfinal. Thiem will now take on World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in the semifinal.

Remarkably, Federer had two match points in the second set but still ended up on the losing side. This was the 21st time in his career that Federer had lost a match after holding match point.

Federer took the early lead in the match, winning the first three games. He was super aggressive; in the fourth game, on Thiem's serve, he even tried his special shot popularly known as the 'SABR'.

Federer was off to a quick start in his quarter-final match at the Mutua Madrid Open 2019
Federer was off to a quick start in his quarter-final match at the Mutua Madrid Open 2019

Earlier on in the tournament, in his match against Fabio Fognini, Thiem had lost just 12 points on his serve. But on Saturday, Thiem lost one too many in the first set. By contrast, backed up by a first serve percentage of 84, Federer wrapped up the opener in 30 minutes - while making just five unforced errors.

At that stage the commentators reminded us that David Nalbandian and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga were the only two other players Federer had lost to despite having a first serve percentage above 75. But they also noted Thiem was one of just five active players to hold a winning head-to-head record against Federer, a factor that would prove significant later on in the match.

In the second game of the second set, Thiem earned himself a break point with a stunningly deep return on Federer's serve. However, Federer fought his way through, refusing to budge. Thiem’s baseline prowess notwithstanding, it was never going to be easy for him with Federer putting up a perfect serving exhibition for a set and a half.

Dominic Thiem was equal to the task on Friday, at the Mutua Madrid Open
Dominic Thiem was equal to the task on Friday, at the Mutua Madrid Open

In the second half of the second set, Federer managed to win his service games only by the skin of his teeth, thanks in part to Thiem’s reluctance to apply pressure at crucial moments. But you could definitely sense a swing in the momentum.

When the tiebreaker was on, Federer got the early lead with a mini-break, winning the first three points. However, at 2-3, he lost that advantage by hitting a forehand long.


Thiem earned his first set point when he sent a forehand down the line with great depth and precision, but Federer saved it with a good serve. Moments later, at 5-6, Federer’s genius was in full display as he executed a stupendous drop shot standing right on the baseline to save another set point.

In the end, the Austrian saved two match points and converted his 6th set point with a terrific forehand down the line passing shot. 

In the decider, Thiem couldn't convert his very first break point opportunity in the first game. Federer was still finding some wicked angles, but Thiem was also finding his range, continuing to pile pressure on the Swiss.

Despite the fact that Thiem couldn’t convert the first few break point opportunities early in the third set, his powerful groundstrokes were helping him make significant inroads into Federer’s service games.

A quick glimpse at some of the rallies will give us an idea of how both players competed in Madrid:

Thiem broke Federer in the third game of the final set when Federer’s forehand crumbled under pressure. In the very next game, in what was perhaps the first time Federer chose to return standing far back from the baseline, he earned himself a couple of break points. But the resilient Austrian saved both of them by attacking the Federer backhand, and he went on to win that game to consolidate the break.

At this juncture, a comparison of the baseline points won by both players, which stood at 33 to 50 in Thiem’s favour, was a clear indication of the Austrian's dominance off the ground.

However, at 3-4, 40-40, a stinging return from Federer meant the Swiss star had a break point, which he managed to convert. The match was equally poised at this stage.

Thiem has always been confident of his abilities to challenge the best in the game. The following video grab of his interview illustrates this point.

His self-belief owing to his winning head-to-head record against Federer also played a part, as he refused to cow down despite seemingly having the rug pulled from under his feet. In the very next game, Thiem created another three break point chances by hitting some sensational returns and heavy ground-strokes.

Though the Austrian couldn't convert the first two, he broke Federer on the third attempt. Federer’s tactics were getting a bit too predictable as he advanced to the net far too early hoping that Thiem's return would go long, which it didn't.

The Austrian converted his second match point to down Federer in two hours and 11 minutes and advance to the semi-final.

Though Federer can take heart from his hard-fought win against Gael Monfils this week, his return to the red dirt at the Mutua Madrid Open came to a grinding halt with this tough loss. He will need to tighten the screws to keep himself in contention at Roland Garros.

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