After earning his first victory on clay against Rafael Nadal in straight sets on Friday, Alexander Zverev will face another member of the ATP Tour’s clay-court elite in the Mutua Madrid Open semi-finals: Dominic Thiem.
The World No. 6 owns a 2-8 ATP Head2Head record against the Austrian and has lost the pair’s four most recent encounters, including a heart-breaking fifth-set tie-break defeat in last year’s US Open final. Thiem also holds a 4-1 advantage on clay, but that lone defeat is key.
Three years ago, Zverev completed a dominant week in Madrid with a 6-4, 6-4 final victory against Thiem to win his third ATP Masters 1000 title. Memories of that victory, and the pair’s instant classic in the 2020 US Open final, mean Zverev will walk onto Manolo Santana Stadium on Saturday with all the belief and motivation he will need to reach a second Madrid final.
“I know that I can do it [against Dominic],” Zverev said. “Everyone remembers the US Open final that we played. I remember it certainly and it is still going to be in the back of my mind when we play tomorrow. I am looking forward to the match.”
Making his first appearance on the ATP Tour since the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in March, Thiem has made it through to his fourth straight semi-final in Madrid. The two-time Madrid runner-up, who owns a 16-4 record in the Spanish capital, entered the tournament eager to test his game. With wins against Marcos Giron, Alex de Minaur and John Isner en route to the final four, Thiem has already surpassed his pre-tournament expectations.
“I was just expecting to hopefully play one or two good matches here against top opponents. Now I'm in the semi-finals and facing Sascha tomorrow. That's amazingly good to get at least four matches [at the] top level, but it's also a big surprise for me. [I] definitely didn't expect that.”
In the second semi-final, two under-the-radar runs will take centre stage at Manolo Santana Stadium as eighth seed Matteo Berrettini and Casper Ruud clash for the fourth time. Before this week, neither player had played a main draw match in Madrid; now, they are fighting for a spot into their maiden ATP Masters 1000 final.
The resurgent Berrettini has quietly built up a 15-3 record on the season, despite a lengthy injury break to recover from an abdominal strain. He claimed his fourth ATP Tour title at the Serbia Open in Belgrade, and powered into the Madrid semi-finals after defeating countryman Fabio Fognini in his opening match.
“There were days where I wasn't really feeling into practice because I felt like there was a lot of work to be done,” Berrettini said. “Sometimes I was feeling kind of unlucky that I got injured again. It was just tough. But then I came back stronger in Belgrade. For here, I proved to myself that I'm strong inside.”
His unseeded opponent, Ruud, is also having a debut to remember in the Spanish capital. Ruud sealed his third consecutive clay-court ATP Masters 1000 semi-final appearance after saving the only break point he has faced all week against Alexander Bublik, and took down fourth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and Felix Auger-Aliassime along the way.
Madrid marks the Norwegian’s 11th tour-level semi-final – all 11 have come on the red dirt.
“It still feels like I'm very new to this level, making the [late] stages at this level,” Ruud said. “I think now I've proven also to myself that it's just not a one-hit-wonder when I did my first [Masters 1000 semi-final] in Rome and the second one in Monte-Carlo. It felt even more like it was a new feeling. This is the third time. I feel more confident in myself. Knowing that I've been there twice before I think will hopefully help tomorrow.”
Ruud will take a 2-1 lead in ATP Head2Head into his matchup against Berrettini, with both wins coming on clay. The defeat that stings the most for Berrettini is the Norwegian’s victory on his home turf at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, where Ruud won 7-6 in the third to reach the semi-finals.
“We always had tough matches. Last year in Rome was [a] really tricky match,” Berrettini recalled. “Still if I think about it, it hurts. I'm really looking forward to getting my revenge, not in a bad way, but just in a way that's in a sports way.”
[WATCH LIVE 1]
ORDER OF PLAY - SATURDAY, MAY 8, 2021
MANOLO SANTANA STADIUM start 1:30pm
WTA -  G. Dabrowski (CAN) / D. Schuurs (NED) vs  B. Krejcikova (CZE) / K. Siniakova (CZE)
Not Before 4:00 pm
 A. Zverev (GER) vs  D. Thiem (AUT)
Not Before 6:30pm
WTA -  A. Barty (AUS) vs  A. Sabalenka (BLR)
Not Before 9:00pm
C. Ruud (NOR) vs  M. Berrettini (ITA)
ARANTXA SANCHEZ STADIUM start 2:00pm
S. Gille (BEL) / J. Vliegen (BEL) vs  N. Mektic (CRO) / M. Pavic (CRO)
After Suitable Rest
T. Puetz (GER) / A. Zverev (GER) vs  M. Granollers (ESP) / H. Zeballos (ARG)