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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, May 7, 2021

 
Dominic thiem

Dominic Thiem rallied into his fourth consecutive Mutua Madrid Open semifinal with a 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 conquest of John Isner.

Photo credit: Ángel Martínez/Mutua Madrid Open

Returning  towering John Isner's serve amid Madrid's high-bounding altitude can be as challenging as catching a tic tac tossed from a skyscraper on your tongue.

Force-fed four aces in a row to end the opening set, Dominic Thiem didn't get discouraged.

Ultimately, Thiem tasted timely break-point success toppling Isner 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 advancing to his fourth straight Mutua Madrid Open semifinal.

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Facing final-set tension tugging on the brim of his baseball cap and narrowing his focus, Thiem tore through his service games with command. Isner, coming off successive third-set tiebreaker wins over ninth-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut and sixth-seeded Andrey Rublev ran out of gas a bit at the end today playing a series of serve-and-volleys in his final service game before Thiem made a sideline-to-sideline sprint banging a backhand pass for the break.

In the final set, Thiem won 20 of 22 points played on his serve slamming love holds in three of his last five service games. Thiem broke Isner with a running backhand pass in the penultimate game then served out the match at 15 to reach his first semifinal in four tournament starts this season.

The two-time Madrid finalist will face either five-time champion Rafael Nadal or fifth-seeded Alexander Zverev for a place in Sunday's final.

The fourth-ranked Thiem spoken openly about the mental malaise he felt in the aftermath of a lethargic loss to Grigor Dimitrov at the Australian Open. Thiem conceded he was struggling for motivation after achieving a life-long dream by winning the 2020 US Open. As many champions before him have learned, winning a maiden major doesn't diminish the pressure, it often exacerbates expectations.

After a near six-week break, Thiem has put on his red clay shoes and tried to dance all over the blues backing up a gritty round-of-16 win over Alex de Minaur yesterday denying six of seven break points he faced today.

Playing cautious rallies in his opening service game, Thiem paid the price. Isner hammered a diagonal forehand, attacked net and scooped out a fine half volley winner to break for 2-0.

An early Isner break amid Madrid's high altitude can be fatal.

Isner unleashed a four-ace game sealing the 31-minute opener in style. Isner served 79 percent, swatted seven aces and won 20 of 24 points on serve in the set.




In the second set, Thiem dodged four break points in the fifth game. Isner missed some first serves in the ensuing game and Thiem made him pay. Testing the big man with a passing shot into the hip, Thiem drew a netted volley to break at love for 4-2.

A wayward Isner backhanded ended the second set and set up a decider with a semifinal spot at stake.

Facing break point to start the third set, Isner rolled with the serve-and-volley off a second serve and caught a break when Thiem, with a good look at open court down the line, missed a forehand return wide. Isner dodged the drama with disarming touch ladling a drop shot winner to hold.

Deadlocked at 4-all, Isner went all in on serve-and-volley to save one break point and continued his net assault. Thiem ran down a forehand volley then raced to his left and laced a backhand bolt down the line. Isner didn't lean toward the line and netted a lunging volley as Thiem broke for 5-4 sending coach Nicolas Massu leaping from his seat celebrating the crucial break.

Thiem tapped a high forehand volley capping a strong comeback in one hour, 55 minutes.


 

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