Dominic Thiem is through to the fourth round of the French Open for the first time in his career after defeating good friend and fellow much raved and talented youngster Alexander Zverev for the second consecutive Saturday (and the third time this clay court season), winning 6-7, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
An opportunity opens up
With the news that the nine-time champion Rafael Nadal had been forced to withdraw from the tournament with a left wrist injury yesterday, both Thiem and Zverev headed into this encounter knowing that a magnificent opportunity had opened up with the King of Clay now out of the running.
Not only was the last-16 on the line, but potentially a first major quarter-final as well, with Marcel Granollers, the fortunate beneficiary of not having to face Nadal, awaiting the victor. Although the Spaniard was now in round four of Roland Garros for the third time, the winner of Thiem-Zverev, would start as favourite.
The opening ten games of the match went with serve, with neither man being able to carve out any break point chances. The seeded Thiem did create the first opportunities in the eleventh game, but Zverev saved all six break points with some big first serves, and crucially held in a game lasting over a quarter of an hour.
That hold ultimately proved to be rather important for the German teenager, as he took the first set on a tiebreak, just as the match had struck the hour mark. The crowd on Suzanne Lenglen were being shown why this particular match-up could be gracing major finals in the future.
Thiem strikes back
Yet the Austrian had seemingly put the disappointment of losing the opening set behind him, as he did manage to break, only to immediately give it back, and gave out a huge bellow of frustration.
Thiem however did manage to go back up a break and was now winning easy points, whilst playing solid tennis, with Zverev's unforced error count rising. The 13th seed wouldn't let his advantage slip this time around and levelled the match at a set all, taking the second 6-3.
Five of Thiem's six career titles have come on clay, including defeating Zverev in Nice a week ago, and he was beginning to assert his authority, saving three break points, before breaking the German in the very next game. Despite the 19-year old putting pressure on the world no.15, Thiem wasn't having any of it, and replicated the second set scoreline.
Stronger physicality prevails
With the match now in it's third hour, Thiem was not only winning, but looking the fresher of the two; Zverev tiring and now had the demeanour of deflation, especially after comfortably losing the third set, despite having chances.
A three-time winner in 2016, in Buenos Aires, Acapulco and Nice, Thiem was now methodically and quickly steering himself towards the finishing line and a 39th victory of the year. Another break of the Zverev serve soon followed and he then sewed up the win to confirm a second appearance in the last-16 of a major; his first coming in New York in 2014.
It's now a huge incentive for Thiem, tipped by many to be a dark horse to go very far across the fortnight. Granollers next on Monday, a match which he goes into high on confidence. David Goffin or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will likely be the Austrian's opponent in his first Grand Slam quarter-final, should he get there, and win that, it could, and probably will, be a meeting between the two men who have accumulated the most wins on tour this year: Novak Djokovic will be across the net.