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Tennis • Ricky’s Preview And Pick For The Second U.S. Open Men’s Semifinal: Thiem vs. Medvedev

Daniil Medvedev hits a return to Andrey Rublev during their Quarterfinals match.

By Ricky Dimon

With the Big 3 absent for all kinds of different reasons, Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev are the top dogs at their U.S. Open. No match that doesn’t involve any member of the Big 3 can get any bigger than Thiem vs. Medvedev.

It could only get bigger if it was the final instead of semifinal, which is what this matchup deserves given that Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer are missing. Instead, a spot in Sunday’s final will be what’s at stake when Thiem and Medvedev square off on Friday night at Flushing Meadows.

This marks the fourth career meeting between the two competitors, with Thiem taking a 2-1 head-to-head lead into this showdown. The Austrian prevailed in a third-set tiebreaker on the indoor hard courts of St. Petersburg in 2018 and 6-4, 6-0 in the Barcelona title match last spring. Medvedev exacted revenge with a 6-3, 6-1 rout in the quarterfinals of the Montreal Masters.

The latter result was part of an absurd hot streak by Medvedev in which he reached six consecutive finals, including the Cincinnati title and a runner-up finish to Nadal at the U.S. Open. Although the coronavirus hiatus prevented the fifth-ranked Russian from producing another such summer, his current form appears to matching what was on display in 2019. He has not dropped a single set through five matches this fortnight and only Andrey Rublev has managed to make a set closer than 6-4 (Rublev played his way into a pair of tiebreakers on Wednesday).

Dominic Thiem in action against Felix Auger-Aliassime of during their match on the eighth day of the US Open Tennis Championships.

Thiem has been the best player on tour other than Djokovic and Nadal dating back to the 2019 Indian Wells Masters, and he owns the No. 3 ranking to show for it. An opening 6-2, 6-1 loss to Filip Krajinovic at the Cincinnati Masters, however, left Thiem as a question mark heading into the U.S. Open. But the 27-year-old has shaken off the rust in a major way, losing just one set to Marin Cilic in round three. Thiem’s last five set scores (at the expense of Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alex de Minaur ) are 6-1, 6-1, 6-1, 6-2, and 6-4. The two-time French Open runner-up is into the semis in New York City for the first time.

“Dominic is a tough opponent to play, especially of course on clay,” Medvedev commented. “I got to feel it last year in the final of Barcelona. On hard I think it’s a little bit easier–in a way. When I say ‘easier,’ he just made final of Australian Open. For me it will be easier for me to play him on hard courts than clay courts.”

As for Medvedev, he is toughest to play on this surface–and perhaps at this exact tournament.

“It was for sure one of the better slam finals ever I would say,” Thiem said of the Medvedev-Nadal U.S. Open classic. “It was an amazing match. I would say that he comes very close to the big three players in terms that he can play his level, his top level, for doesn’t matter how long–I mean, four, five, six hours. That’s going to be really, really difficult.

“I’m looking forward to [it]. I think it’s going to be a big stage, even if it’s without fans. It’s going to be a great semifinals.”

There is almost no doubt it will be great, and also an intriguing contrast between Thiem often ripping every forehand and backhand as hard as he can and Medvedev waiting patiently for his opportunities. It is hard to argue against the fact that Thiem’s peak is better than Medvedev’s. When the No. 2 seed is timing his groundstrokes well and not making errors, he can beat the Big 3 even when the Big 3 are at their best.

But it’s not easy to play your best against Medvedev–especially in a best-of-five situation. As long as the 24-year-old can turn this into a long, grueling contest, he will likely be too steady and too clutch in the end.

Pick: Medvedev in 5

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