THE second semi-final of the men’s singles at the 2020 Australian Open is set for Friday in Melbourne when the dial is set to reach a scorching 40C in the shade. Sean Calvert is back to preview the clash between Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev.
We got a bit of fortune in our bet on day 11 of the Australian Open when Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer went past the overs mark in set one to provide us with a 3.05 winner, with it not appearing likely when Federer led 5-2 early on.
I'll take it though and we move on to day 12, which is set to be a bit of a scorcher.
We’ve been waiting for a typical Aussie summer’s day all tournament long and after struggling to break 25C for much of the fortnight Melbourne has decided it’s going to be 40C on semi-final Friday after a boiling day on Thursday.
Fortunately for Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev this furnace-like heat has arrived after they’ve played five matches in comfortable temperatures and they’re playing at night – but it’s still set to be 35C at 20:00 local time – although there’s also a good chance of rain at that time, so the roof may be on.
So, that’s an interesting angle as to how this ninth career clash between these two good friends will pan out because both have so far enjoyed it being cooler and slower than usual in Melbourne and now it’ll be hotter and perhaps under the roof.
My gut feeling is that I’d probably side with Thiem if it came down to a physical encounter, but he did have a four-hour-plus battle with Rafa Nadal on Wednesday, so that could have an effect, too.
Perhaps more of an imponderable here is whether or not Zverev will be able to retain the form that he’s found so far this tournament or whether the nerves of a maiden major semi will see him revert to the tennis we’ve seen from him a lot in the last 12 months.
Zverev is under no illusions about how poor he’s been of late, admitting that he came to Melbourne with nothing much to lose.
“This year I actually came into the Australian Open with absolutely no expectations because I was playing horribly. At the ATP Cup I was playing bad and the weeks beforehand.”
That’s about fair and while Zverev has produced some very tidy numbers indeed, especially on serve, this tournament there’s always this nagging feeling for me that it may not take much for it to all fall apart again.
That serve has been special so far in Melbourne for Zverev, who’s made a whopping 79% of first serves, winning 79.3% of those points and hitting 0.71 aces per game.
And it was that weapon that Zverev relied upon when he met Thiem at the World Tour Finals a few months ago, when he made a stunning 84% of his first serves in their opening set, not facing a breakpoint until game 12.
Then it all went wrong for Zverev, who double-faulted to hand the set to Thiem (who’d made only 50% of his first serves in that set) and the German never recovered.
It’s those sorts of collapses, where his confidence just goes and the serve goes to pot, with double faults cropping up regularly, that puts me off backing Zverev in his first major semi final.
Zverev explained his weak showings at Grand Slams so far thus: “I was very impatient. In a way also I was maybe paying attention to Grand Slams too much. Everything else I was just playing better tennis at other tournaments [such as] in Madrid, Rome, other Masters and at the World Tour Finals too. I think it meant too much for me.”
And that’s the killer line: “It meant too much to me.”
So far Zverev’s lack of expectation this fortnight has played in his favour, allowing him to relax and play his tennis, but now he’s got something to lose and a lot to gain. Will the nerves come back?
That’s the difficulty for me with Zverev, who has the weapons to be as good as he likes, but I fancy the experience of Thiem to come through here, as he also has done six times in eight clashes with Zverev.
Most of those were on clay, but Thiem’s had little problem breaking the Zverev serve, which he’s done 28.3% of the time, and given the Austrian’s improvement on hard courts and suitability to these slower Melbourne conditions he looks the right favourite.
It did appear to be a bit quicker last night in the Djokovic/Federer match and that’s perhaps because of the much warmer weather and the courts naturally speeding up after being played on a lot and maybe that’ll help the Zverev serve, as may the under-roof conditions if that happens.
Thiem though looks a man in prime form and confidence just now and having beaten Nadal at a major for the first time he’s likely to be the one with the more deep-seated confidence.
His numbers can’t be argued with either, having held serve 92% of the time this tournament and broken 24.6% of the time, winning 79.6% of his first serve points and 55% on his second ball.
That’s one area where Thiem is always likely to come out on top, with Zverev’s second serve numbers a fair bit weaker than Thiem’s and a lot will depend on how many first serves Zverev makes.
Zverev’s inconsistencies make this a tricky one, but 3-1 to Thiem looks about right here at a price of around 4.10.
Given the respective holds of the pair and the likely quicker and/or indoor conditions, a set one breaker is a possibility, too, but 3.30 is perhaps a little short.
0.5 points win Thiem to beat Zverev 3-1 (4.10, Unibet)