Having ended the local favourite’s title hopes in the previous round, Alexander Zverev took another firm step towards his second title at the Spanish capital when he reached the Mutua Madrid Masters final by defeating Dominic Thiem, the Austrian who stopped him lifting his first major title last year at the US Open.
Been two great matches for me. I think today was a little bit of a weirder match because of the wind and the conditions, Alexander Zverev
No doubt still brimming with confidence at beating the King of Clay, Rafa Nadal, in straight sets on his favourite surface for the first time, Zverev broke Thiem three times and hit 25 winners to beat the Austrian for the third time.
“Been two great matches for me. I think today was a little bit of a weirder match because of the wind and the conditions,” Zverev, who is chasing his fourth Masters title and 15th overall, said.
“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. Obviously Rafa is the favourite, no matter what. Probably Novak second, Dominic a close third.”
Thiem wasn’t put out by the loss having taken time off to recharge his batteries after Dubai.
“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 (kph). You cannot do too much. He was just the better player today. I 100% accept that.
“In general, I’m super happy with the week. I would have never expected to be in the semi-finals; to play in the semi-finals 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.”
Zverev will be playing Matteo Berrettini for the title, the burly Italian having overpowered Casper Ruud 6-4 6-4 for his eighth consecutive win.
The Norwegian had not been broken all week but the powerful Berrettini lost just seven total points on serve and never faced a break point.
“I think my return today was really a high level,” said Berrettini, the eighth seed. “We play each other already — this is the fourth time, so I kind of know him like in the same way I think he knows me. I didn’t expect this performance. You step in the court and you say, Okay, I know I can return, but then you don’t know how well you’re going to do that.
“The key I think today was, like, putting pressure on his serve, first serve and second serve. I was always trying to get the momentum and attacking even his first serve. I know that he likes to have time, run around the forehand. I tried to do that. It worked out pretty well. I’m happy for that.”
The pair should be evenly matched in the final as they both have victories over each other on clay though Zverev leads Berrettini, making his Masters’ final debut, 2-1 overall.
“The times that we played each other in Rome, obviously they were different conditions, I remember in Shanghai I think the roof was closed, the court was very fast, and obviously in Rome it was different,” Berrettini recollected. “I remember there was one break each set. I guess he just served better than me and I got broken twice. That was it. That’s what I remember.
“Tomorrow I think it’s kind of the same. I saw him, he’s playing really good. He’s solid. He moves well. For his height, he’s really good. He serves well. I mean, he’s in the final. He beat Rafa and Dominic, probably the best players on clay. It’s going to be a challenge match, but I’m in the finals. I guess the best two guys are going to play each other.”
The winner will become the fifth different champion in the last five Masters events.
“He’s been playing exceptionally well this week,” Zverev said of Berrettini. “I saw the end of last night where he won 11 games in a row. He was almost unplayable. He was hitting the ball so hard, serving extremely well. It’ll going to be difficult.”