49 minutes was all it took for Alexandr Dolgopolov to dispatch Dominic Thiem from the Aegon Open Nottingham. And although this portrays a straight-forward thrashing, it really disguises a quality clash.
Both players wasted no time in getting down to business. Dolgopolov’s quick service motion – the perfect asset to drive some power into the point – says enough about his disdain of hanging around on court, but Dominic’s opening service game affirmed that he, too, wasn’t in the mood to waste time. Two winners, a return forced long and a third winner out wide saw him make it onto the board swiftly. Dolgopolov, meanwhile, needed to hold off advantage in order to even up the scoreline, primarily going 0-40 down before big serves and smashes dug him out of an early hole.
In a match that never seemed to pause for breath (and thus even the changeovers seemed to take half the time they should have done), Dominic Thiem owned the early momentum. The contest went with serve, but the 21-year-old dictated the proceedings – his low, consistent slice paving the way for success in long and short rallies alike. His speedy shot collection and fantastic footwork meant that chipping back returns for Dolgopolov approach shots weren’t a major issue, and they even allowed him to show off some amazing passing shots and running forehands. The Austrian guided his weapons around the court with superb touch, switching up his game with ease, and playing close to the lines.
But as Alexandr upped his net approaches, things took a change of direction in game seven. Thiem spent the long first point dictating a slice rally, but suddenly lost patience, going for a clean winner of his own accord. The chosen forehand sailed long, and from then on – despite quality strokes from Dominic – it was one way traffic for Dolgopolov. The Ukrainian dominated at the net, pulling off multiple volleys, drop shots and smashes. He broke the Austrian to 15, and for the rest of the set, Thiem had to work for long lengths of time if he wanted his opponent to crack. Dropping the controlled, low slice that had gained him many mini-victories, the young prospect began to go for the power that his opponent was displaying. With time slipping away, the world number 29 started going for too much. Dolgopolov swept the first set 6-3 in 23 minutes.
The second set lasted little longer, and although Dominic eased up on his new ‘tactic’, everything Alexandr touched was turning into gold. His net play was exquisite and oozing with variety, and the Ukrainian was very much in the zone. It was a little too upsetting for Dominic, who – running and striking in a way worthy of the win – was thrown into despair, letting the occasional yell escape his lips, and occasionally head-shaking and shrugging at slick volleys and crafty droppers. His serve, also, fell victim to overhitting, as he went all out on second serves, and consistently pushed slightly too far on his initial bombs.
The 21-year-old still summoned up some gasp-worthy winners, but 25% of Thiem overhitting combined with a 75% of sublime volleys and returns from Dolgopolov totalled in the non-seeder’s favour. Alexandr broke in the sixth game of the second set with a fantastic forehand scoop off a drop shot. And when Thiem failed to capitalise on two break points in the following game, the match was all but over.
Dominic played great, Dolgopolov played fantastic, and they both played fast. With one last Thiem forehand into the net, Alexandr Dolgopolov was the victor, 6-3 6-3. He awaits Yen-Hsun Lu in the quarter-finals, after the man from Chinese Taipei took out defending champion Feliciano Lopez.
Post match, Dolgopolov was upbeat about how he had played.
“Really happy with the win,” he said. “Yesterday I wasn’t feeling perfect physically, and was playing really up and down. I was not concentrating well, and the court was a little bit different than Centre Court. It was a tough match, and today I came back fired up, and was moving well from the start and was playing good quality tennis. It was much better.”
Acknowledging his invincible streak midway through the match, the 26-year-old talked about how tennis player approach moments like these.
“Over all, I think you play instinctive in tennis,” he mused. “We don’t plan to play really good shots, you just try to do your best. It goes up and down in the match. I think I held on quite well in the start. He was playing really good and I went down on my serve, 0-40 first game and 0-30 second game, and I didn’t let him break, which was important. I turned around and started playing great, and he started playing a little bit worse. So tennis is like that.”
And he was able to see and appreciate why Dominic succumbed to a little frustration.
“Yeah, I think because, as I said, in the start he had his chances, and then from 3-3 he lost four games in a row to 3-1, so he was frustrated obviously, he lost the control of the match. I think that’s why he was unhappy.”
It was a swift, sweet victory for the Ukrainian today. Yet despite even his confidence-boosting win over Rafael Nadal at Queen’s last week, the world number 75 is not setting his sights overly high here in Nottingham.
“I’ve not really [got my eye on the trophy]. I’m just playing match by match. I wasn’t even seeded and I’ve already played three matches, so… you just want to get some matches in and play well. And if I win, that’s perfect, it’s great.”
The way he performed today, Mr Alexandr Dolgopolov may be in for a pleasant surprise.