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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, May 8, 2021

Alexander Zverev

In a rematch of the 2018 final, Alexander Zverev topped Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-4 streaking into his second Mutua Madrid Open final.

Photo credit: Ángel Martínez/Mutua Madrid Open

Recharging his mind and building his body, Dominic Thiem spent part of his six-week sabbatical from the sport building a home gym.

In a rematch of the 2018 Mutua Madrid Open final, Alexander Zverev put Thiem on a tennis treadmill.

More: Ruud is Emerging Clay Force

Controlling play with a powerful first serve and punishing strokes, Zverev tamed Thiem 6-3, 6-4 streaking into his second Mutua Madrid Open final and ending the workout with an embrace of his friend.

Yesterday, Zverev soared through 10 of the final 14 games sweeping 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-4.

Today, Zverev won 10 of the first 14 games breezing to a 6-3, 4-1 lead against the US Open champion as he took some measure of revenge for bowing to his buddy in a tense five-set US Open final loss last September.

Taking out two champions in as many days boosts Zverev's confidence on dirt, but doesn't satisfy his desire to complete the job and take the title.

"I mean, they're probably the two clay-courters that you think of right now when you're thinking about Roland Garros and the biggest chances of winning," Zverev said. "Obviously Rafa is the favorite no matter what. Probably Novak second, Dominic a close third.

"Yeah, it's been so far a good week for me. As I said, the job is not done yet. Tomorrow I have a very difficult opponent no matter who it's going to be. I hope I can continue playing and performing the way I am."

The three-time Masters 1000 champion will play for his second Madrid title against a Masters final debutant—either eighth-seeded Matteo Berrettini or Casper Ruud—in tomorrow's final. Zverev improved to 14-2 lifetime in Madrid, his most successful Masters event, and 8-2 in Masters 1000 semifinals.

Acapulco champion Zverev set the tone on serve, serving 66 percent, slamming six aces and dropping serve just once to beat Thiem for the third time in eight meetings and snap a four-match losing streak to the Austrian. That ballistic serve didn't give Thiem much say in the German's serve games.

"I mean, it was just not enough against Sascha, who played well I think," Thiem said. "I think if you, for example, look back on the last game, he served 227, 228. You cannot do too much. He was just the better player today. I 100% accept that."

Madrid was Thiem's first tournament since he lost to Lloyd Harris in the opening round of Dubai last March. Given the layoff, Thiem was satisfied with his semifinal run.

"In general I'm super happy with the week," Thiem said. "I would have never expected to be in the semifinals, to play in the semifinals a player like him. I cannot complain about anything.

"Just, of course, there are many things to improve for next week and then for the weeks after, as well. Just try to get to Rome, get some good practices in there, then hopefully play even better than here in Madrid."

This semifinal was a rematch of the 2020 US Open final, which saw Thiem rally from a two-set deficit to win his maiden major in the first Flushing Meadows men's final decided in a fifth-set tie breaker, and the 2018 Madrid final, which Zverev controlled from the outset. Breaking to open both sets in that final, Zverev dismantled Thiem, 6-4, 6-4, capturing the Mutua Madrid Open title.

Today, Thiem won the toss and elected to receive. Thiem, who dropped his opening service game in wins over Alex de Minaur and John Isner en route to the semifinals, saved three break points in his second serve game today. Tension and some deep returns troubled Thiem as Zverev converted his fourth break point for 3-1 when the Austrian netted a backhand pass.

A spiking wind created a brief curtain of red clay as Thiem stepped up to serve down 1-4. The two-time Roland Garros finalist hit through the haze for his first love hold.

The 6'6" Zverev answered emphatically. Leaning into his high ball toss, Zverev zapped successive aces sealing a shutout hold for 5-2.

Despite the degree of difficulty controlling the ball amid an unruly wind, Zverev didn't flinch. Zverev won 16 of 20 first-serve points and did not hit a double fault in the first set.

The sixth-ranked German snapped off a smash to seal the 42-minute opener.

Trying to reset to start the second set, Thiem saved a break point and used a fortuitous net-cord winner that helped him hold.

An unrelenting Zverev continued hammering away at the Austrian's defenses. Zverev bolted a backhand down the line for break point in the third game. Hitting his flat two-handed into Thiem's one-handed backhand wing, Zverev banged out the break with a clenched fist for 2-1.

Tennis Express

The 2018 champion hits flatter and belted the ball through the wind with more conviction. Zverev surprised Thiem flashing a forehand winner down the line for a second break point in the fifth game.

A defensive Thiem bailed out from behind the baseline tossing in a mundane drop shot. Reading and reacting, Zverev swept a clean forehand winner down the line. Riding his third break, Zverev stretched his lead to 4-1.

Exhorted by the crowd, Thiem repelled a serve-and-volley with a backhand pass off the sideline then scorched one of his heaviest forehands to regain one break in the sixth game.

Thiem botched a routine drop volley on a serve-and-volley to face another break point, but dotted the center stripe with an ace to save it.

The first serve was a fierce weapon for Zverev who lit up the clay with a series of stinging first serves for triple match point.

On his second match point, Zverev dabbed a dropper to draw his friend forward then fired a forehand pass to close in one hour, 37 minutes.

Playing for his 15th career title, Zverev will be favored against a Masters final debutant—either Ruud or Berrettini—in tomorrow's final.


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