Dominic Thiem celebrates after beating Roger Federer at the Madrid Open tennis tournament, Friday, May 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
Dominic Thiem celebrates after beating Roger Federer at the Madrid Open tennis tournament, Friday, May 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)|Associated Press

ATP Tennis Saturday: Abrams picks the Madrid Open’s men’s semis -- Thiem vs. Djokovic, Nadal vs. Tsitsipas

Matches at 10 am and 3 pm EDT.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Mutua Madrid Open
Madrid, Spain
Saturday, May 11, 2019
Men’s semifinals

Dominic Thiem over Novak Djokovic
This is gonna be fun. This match might very well be the match that in the future we all look back upon as the informal passing of the torch from one generation of tennis players to another. I’ve said time and again this week that world’s No. 1 Novak Djokovic has not impressed, has enjoyed an easy draw, and was not playing his best. Now it’s time for 25-year-old Austrian Dominic Thiem to prove those things to be true. Thiem came through a very difficult test by topping Roger Federer in three tough sets in yesterday’s quarters, and saved two match points in the second set to do so. As the match wore on, it became apparent that Federer couldn’t match Thiem’s groundstrokes from the baseline, and as they traded shot for shot Thiem hit harder and deeper, sometimes with great angles, while Federer favored his forehand, mishit a lot of backhands, and when faced with backhands that he tried to punish, he was often not in the right place to make a decent connection. Federer’s slice backhand was noticeably steady as a rock, but his topspin backhand was less than terrific, and it looked like The Fed knew it himself. It was almost as if he was missing a half-step on every topspin backhand---the half-step that would have put him in the proper position to make his lazy loopers missiles.

Djokovic got here with a quarterfinal walkover from Marin Cilic, who evidently suffered a pretty serious case of food poisoning, and was unable to lace them up. But I don’t think that will help Nole. I think The Joker needed a stiff test and didn’t get it, and now must go to battle with the hope, not the assurance, that he can out maneuver someone who hits as well as he does. Yet, after his win over Federer, Thiem knows he can not only hit, but can battle with the very best of them.

History is an interesting teacher. It shows that Nole holds a 5-2 career edge over Thiem, but Thiem’s two wins came in the last two encounters these two have fought, both of them on clay, by the way. I think Thiem has the momentum, the confidence, the fight, and, quite frankly, the better game on clay. And I think the Austrian is going to show that today.

Rafa Nadal over Stefanos Tsitsipas
I hope they have a medic on hand at Manolo Santana today for this match, because these guys are going to wage an all out war on each other. Nadal just rolled over Stan the Man yesterday in two easy sets, and finally looked like the clay maestro he has been his entire career. We need worry about Nadal no longer. The gladiator is back.

But how about that win that the Greek God posted over world No. 3 Sascha Zverev Friday? Tsitsipas did what he could to control not only the points, but the tempo of the match itself, and although he accomplished both goals, he controlled the tempo by a little gamesmanship that Zverev seemed to dislike intensely. In the first set, Zverev received a warning for exceeding the time limit to serve, when it clearly was Tsitsipas who backed away from the baseline and stalled the German into waiting for him to be ready, a clear violation of player conduct. Yet the umpire called the infraction on Zverev, who was clearly bothered by the miscall. In my opinion, it might have actually cost Zverev the first set, as he was shaken, and argued both with the umpire and the tournament director. Nonetheless, when Tsitsipas controlled the third set to close out a wonderful display of tennis, it was apparent that the better player on this day won. But I think we all know that these two will be playing meaningful matches for a very long time, and this was just one in what will be a long series of exciting encounters.

As for the match at hand, if Nadal is truly Nadal, this match may be entertaining, but I don’t think there will be a question as to who will come out on top. Tsitsipas may be a bull, but Nadal is a bullfighter, and he will kill the bull in front of his compatriots, when push comes to shove. This should rightfully set up a match between the two best clay courters in the world in a juicy final.

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