August 2018
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Thiem routs weary Zverev to reach third straight French Open semi-final
(PARIS, June 05, 2018):There were tell-tale signs as early as the third game of the match. Alexander Zverev oscillated between clutching his hamstring and doubling over on a dank, dismal day at Roland Garros.

The second-seeded German, who battled through three successive three-setters to make his first major quarterfinal, here at the French Open, spending two-and-a-half hours more on court than his opponent Austrian Dominic Thiem, had nothing more to stretch.

The last-eight clash, however, was more than the sum of the struggles of the second seed. Thiem, 24, of the blazing single-fisted backhand, for who these wet, slippery conditions was better suited, took his time warming up to the occasion.

Cheered on by his girlfriend WTA player Kristina Mladenovic the seventh-seed came through 6-4, 6-2, 6-1 to make his third successive semifinal here, having lost to eventual champions Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in those matches.

"It's never easy if your opponent is not 100 per cent," Thiem remarked. "He's one of the fittest guys on tour, but even for him it maybe is a little bit too tough to play three five-setters in the first rounds of a Slam. I expected that he'd be a little bit tired, but still I'm happy about how I finished the game. I let him run. I was doing what I had to do."

Thiem, whose tee had an orange armband detailing on the sleeve, that was consistent with the shale beneath him, came ready to play on the Philippe-Chatrier court. Clay can have contrasting effects on the single-fisted backhand, on which side the Austrian goes over as much as he does under. While the nature of the surface affords him the luxury of an extra couple of seconds for preparation, it equally takes away from the sting. Still the 24-year-old went to his backhand, every time he needed solidity.

Zverev called for the trainer at 1-4 in the second set, when down double-break. He left the court then at the end of the second set for more treatment before falling behind love-4 in the third.

The 21-year-old crowd-favourite held his serve in the fifth game, but couldn't do much more. Thiem broke in the seventh, closing out on his third match point, rolling a single-fisted shot for a winner that Zverev could only applaud. The two young stars of the game hugged at the net before the victor cheered his younger opponent as he left the court after 1 hour and 50 minutes of action.

"I didn't want to pull out of the first Grand Slam quarterfinal of my career. I knew I'm not going to win the match. There was no way for me, I could barely move. I couldn't serve. I couldn't really do anything," he said. "I still wanted to finish the match, kind of give the credit to Dominic. He deserves to be in the semifinals, end on a loss and not on a retirement."

Thiem stood firm, refusing to be distracted by the struggles of Zverev, making the younger player move. "It's not working that good when he's fit, but at this situation it was perfect," the Austrian said of his wide serves. "I was hitting wide. He was not hitting returns like normal, and I immediately had the control of the point, that's why I was serving that many serves wide."

Thiem, who will meet 25-year-old Marco Cecchinato in the last four in what will be a clash of the single-fisted backhands, said he's sharper for the test this time round.

"This year I'm physically and mentally fresher than I've been the last two years," he said. "I know how to handle a Grand Slam now, how to handle going deep in such a tournament. Everything gets better with experience."

In a men's doubles quarter-final clash, eighth seeds Croatia's Nikola Mektic and Austria's Alexander Peya beat India's Rohan Bopanna and Frenchman Edouard Roger-Vasselin 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.

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