In store for tomorrow’s first men’s semifinal is a classic battle of styles between two upper-echelon players who have come close to the sport’s top prizes in the past – but have fallen just short.
Let’s start with the Thiem-Raonic parallels. Both players have reached one Grand Slam final. Both have spent over 140 weeks within the world’s Top 10 thanks to the massive cuts they take at the ball. Both have reached multiple Masters 1000 finals, falling short each time. At the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday one will earn another shot at capturing a Masters 1000 title.
Now for the differences. Both hit big, but thrive on completely different surfaces. Thiem’s Grand Slam final came on the picturesque red clay of Roland Garros last year, while Raonic’s crowning achievement in 2016 was a run to the title match at Wimbledon on the back of high-octane serving and feathered volleying. Thiem and his one-hander are most comfortable taking swings at the back of a tennis court, while Raonic takes every opportunity he can to advance up and finish a point at the net.
In the medium-paced conditions of Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, however, the match up is evened up. Both clay courters and big servers have proven they are able to win here, including Raonic who is through to his fourth BNP Paribas Open semifinal in five years (the odd one out being the year he didn’t play.) For Thiem, it’s his first semifinal in the desert – although he did reach the quarters here in 2017.
Their roads to the semi have been drastically different, with 13th-seeded Raonic having struggled through a tough third-set battle with qualifier Marcos Giron, all while battling with low first-serve percentages salvaged by strong break point conversion. No. 8 seed Thiem, on the other hand, has breezed through each of his matches in straight sets, ultimately aided by a walkover from Gael Monfils in the quarters to reach a second consecutive hard court Masters 1000 semi for the first time in his career.
“With Dominic, you can’t give him too much time,” analyzed Raonic ahead of their semifinal. “He can do a lot of good things, get ahead in the point, and start to run you around a lot if he has time to get into a point and work it.”
The Canadian owns the head-to-head 2-0, with both matches coming back in 2016 while Raonic was at the height of his power (he ended that year at No. 3 in the world) and Thiem was at the start of his establishment as a top player. Raonic has often picked on the Austrian’s one-hander with his massive kick serve, which will no doubt get a boost from the BNP Paribas Open’s high-bouncing courts – but Thiem will be already familiar with the tactic this year, having doused the hot-serving Ivo Karlovic in the fourth round.
“[Raonic] is very difficult to play, because he’s also good from the baseline,” said Thiem after his quarterfinal walkover. “[He] moves not bad. So it will be similar like yesterday against Karlovic to take care of my serve. I tried this, to get through my serves well.
“In general [it is] going to be very difficult, because he’s playing very well again, and his serve is always one of the best.”