Zverev, Thiem set for title tilt in Madrid

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Alexander Zverev will be going for his second title in as many weeks in the Madrid Open final. (AP)

Observers of the Madrid Open men’s semifinals today might have felt a sense of déjà vu when comparing the two matches.

A close first set in the early stages. A late break of serve, then a threat to break back. A hold to clinch the opener and a rout in the second.

The matches between Dominic Thiem/Kevin Anderson and Alexander Zverev/Denis Shapovalov both followed those patterns and in the end, it was the more experienced clay-courters who came out on top.

In the first semifinal, Thiem faced a daunting task against Anderson as he’d never beaten the South African in six prior matches. However, the two had never faced each other on clay and Thiem, fresh off a convincing victory over world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, proved that he was up for the challenge. Often in control of the rallies, the Austrian was able to keep Anderson off-balance with his serve and from the baseline.

After being pushed to the brink in his first two matches, the world No. 7 has won his last three in straight sets as he tries to capture his first career Masters 1000 title.

Zverev, his opponent in the final, has already reached that milestone as he won two of the biggest tournaments outside of the Grand Slams last year. He’ll be entering this match on a roll of his own as he defended his title in Munich last week.

In his run to the championship round in Madrid, the young German hasn’t dropped a set. Shapovalov, who prior to the tournament, mentioned how he was trying to incorporate some elements of Nadal’s left-handed prowess on the clay into his own game, hung around with Zverev early on. After Zverev broke the Canadian’s serve late in the opener, he got through a close game to clinch the first set and then rolled to reach his second final in as many weeks.

Thiem will be entering the match with a 4-1 head-to-head record against Zverev, with three of those wins coming on clay. However, it’s been two years since they’ve faced each other on the dirt and a lot has changed for Zverev and his place in the game. They’re both playing their best tennis of the year right now, and with Roland Garros on the horizon, are trying to keep their current runs of good form going.

It should be a battle from start to finish between two of the best players on clay in the game right now.    

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