Dominic Thiem on John Isner's serve: ‘Like a goalkeeper facing a penalty’

Thiem rallies from a set down to defeat John Isner to set up a semifinal match against Alexander Zverev in Madrid Open.

File photo - Dominic Thiem in action against John Isner in Madrid Open; Credit: ATP Tour Twitter

Dominic Thiem displayed immense character in coming from a set down to beat John Isner 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 to reach the Mutua Madrid Open semifinals on Friday. After the gruelling contest, Thiem has compared facing John Isner’s serve to a goalkeeper in a penalty shootout of a football match. Isner has incredibly served over 100 aces in his four matches in the Spanish capital this year. No wonder Thiem made the unusual comparison!

“I think it’s comparable to a goalkeeper [facing] a penalty. If he places it well, if it has the right speed, there’s just no time to react,” Thiem admitted after the match. “You either have to guess or hope that he’s missing the first serve. It’s just pure luck actually to return it. It’s like a 50/50 chance. That’s why it’s so, so tough.”

The 27-year-old Austrian has gone on to explain the difficulty in returning Isner’s serves. “It’s not only the first serve, it’s the second as well, which has such a high bounce,” he added.

“You go close, return it, which is unbelievably tough, especially here on clay in altitude, or you go five, six metres back behind the baseline. He has a lot of time to come in the net. It’s just incredibly tough to be a returner against him.”

‘I’m on the right path’

Third seed Thiem is competing at his first tournament since the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, where he lost to Lloyd Harris on 16 March. He had also beaten Marcos Giron and Alex de Minaur this week.

“I’m pleased with everything [in] my game,” said Thiem. “I’ve played three very different opponents. Everything is working quite well. [My] groundstrokes are working well. The serve was pretty good all the time. The return today, especially in some parts of the game, was very good.”

“I guess that I’m on the right [path] definitely. But still many things to improve, getting 100 per cent back in the match rhythm, anticipation and everything… I am surprised to be in the semi-finals.”

Thiem will next play fifth seed and 2018 champion Alexander Zverev on Saturday. Zverev had beaten Rafael Nadal 6-4, 6-4 to reach the last four.

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