Budding Rivalry Between Young Stars Thiem and Tsitsipas Continues in Paris

Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas will face off on Wednesday at Roland Garros in their second-round match. Thiem is ranked World #8, and has excelled on his best surface by far, the clay courts. He, along with Alexander Zverev, is considered by most tennis pundits and betting markets one of the two favorites to win the tournament after heavy favorite Rafael Nadal. At age 24, he is still the second-youngest player in the Top 15, but is still a wily veteran compared to the young Tsitsipas. The Greek teenager currently sits at his career high ranking of #39 after accumulating points throughout last season and a strong clay court season in 2018, his first year playing a majority tour-level tournaments.

This exciting match-up early in the tournament is a result of the seeding structure for major tournaments. The top 32 players are seeded, meaning any player outside the top 32 can be drawn against any other player, no matter how highly ranked they are, essentially rendering the 33rd player and the 128th player equal in terms of the draw. Additionally, Thiem is one of the three best clay court players in the world, but his lack of success early this year on hard courts has caused his ranking to slip and him to end up seeded seventh. This is also what makes the sport exciting, with top players being challenged in early rounds and younger players getting a chance to prove themselves on the sport’s biggest stage.
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Seasons Up To This Point

Both players arrive at this point travelling fairly similar roads, with both players gaining many points during the current clay court season. Tsitsipas unfortunately spent a good part of 2017 playing Challengers or having to go through qualifying for larger events so his ranking does not fully reflect his positive jump in form. Thiem has always dominated on the clay, posting a 20-5 record this season on the surface, as well as eight of his ten career titles coming on the surface. He is also the only player to defeat Nadal on clay this season, topping him in straight sets in Madrid. Even at his young age, Thiem is very comfortable at Roland Garros, reaching the semifinals the past two seasons. Last season, he won his first five matches without dropping a set, before his loss to Nadal in the semis. With top players such as Roger Federer and Andy Murray not playing this year’s tournament, Thiem has his sights set on an even deeper run.

Tsitsipas may have other plans. He also excels on clay, with three of his four Challenger Tour finals on the surface, including his only title. He also reached the final of a 500 level tournament for his first tour-level final of his career in Barcelona last month. In his run to the final he did not lose a single set and defeated three Top 20 players in the process. The most impressive of these victories was, ironically, against Thiem in the quarterfinals. He is 10-5 this season on clay, after playing only two tour-level matches on the surface before this season and losing both. On clay this season, Tsitsipas has registered seven of his ten wins against Top 50 players. He is quickly improving at age 19, and does not seem to be stopping soon.

Match Preview

This seems to be a budding rivalry not only because both players are young, exciting athletes who excel on clay courts, but they have also already faced off three times in 2018. Thiem won the first two, with Tsitsipas taking the most recent battle. However, both Thiem’s victories came on hard court, while Tsitsipas won their only matchup on clay, which also happened to be the most lopsided victory. This match should contain plenty of action and will be one of the more compelling matches this early in the tournament. Thiem’s experience on the big stage and comfort having played more five-set matches give him an advantage, but Tsitsipas has shown he has no problem beating Thiem on clay and he is the underdog and has much less pressure. This will surely be an entertaining match and likely far from the last one between these two.

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