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Thiem Edges Djokovic, Nadal Crushes Khachanov set up Rolex Masters Tennis •Monte-Carlo Quarterfinal Showdown

Dominic Thiem of Austria returns the ball to Andrey Rublev of Russia during their second round match at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters tournament in Roquebrune Cap Martin, France, 17 April 2018. EPA-EFE/SEBASTIEN NOGIER



By Ricky Dimon


Thursday’s marquee third-round matchup at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters lived up to the hype. Dominic Thiem recovered from a rough first set and Novak Djokovic continued to show signs of improvement, as the former eventually prevailed 6-7(2), 6-2, 6-3 after two hours and 29 minutes of entertainment.


Thiem surged to a 3-0 advantage in the opener and quickly earned one set point with Djokovic serving at 3-5 before getting a look at two set points on his own serve at 5-3, 40-15 and 40-30. Multiple double-faults, however, contributed to the Austrian getting broken and he soon saw the set go by the wayside in a lopsided tiebreaker.


But Djokovic, who still impressed relative to his previous comeback matches at Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami, could not maintain momentum. The world No. 13 from Serbia never broke Thiem again, failing to convert either of two chances in the second and going without a break opportunity in the decider.


“Every win is important, especially against such a great player as Novak,” Thiem assured. “It was important for my self-confidence, to know I’m physically 100 percent again. It was a great win. Of course it’s important, but tomorrow is a new day.”


Tomorrow figures to be an even tougher day for the fifth seed, because standing in his way of the semifinals is familiar foe Rafael Nadal. The 10-time Monte-Carlo champion has advanced with straight-set routs of Aljaz Bedene and Karen Khachanov, the latter whom he dismissed 6-3, 6-2 in one hour and 19 minutes.


Nadal leads the head-to-head series with Thiem 5-2 after going 3-1 last year–with all four of those meetings coming in the clay-court swing. The Spaniard prevailed in Barcelona, Madrid, and Roland Garros while losing to Thiem in Rome. Having previously captured titles in Monte-Carlo, Barcelona, and Madrid, Nadal was clearly fatigued in his Rome setback, but there will be no such issues this time around. After all, the world No. 1 is well-rested after missing much of 2018’s first three months due to a hip injury suffered in the Australian Open semifinals. He is off to a message-sending start on clay, with Davis Cup beatdowns of Philipp Kohlschreiber and Alexander Zverev followed by a pair of Monte-Carlo routs (also one against Aljaz Bedene).


This has been and continues to be a nightmarish draw for Thiem, but he has successfully navigated it thus far with comebacks from a set down in each of his first two outings. He previously fought off one match point in a 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 defeat of Andrey Rublev.


In other quarterfinal contests, doubles partners Grigor Dimitrov and David Goffin will collide, Alexander Zverev is going up against Richard Gasquet, and Marin Cilic will renew his rivalry with Kei Nishikori.


Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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