World No. 3 Stan Wawrinka targets a maiden appearance in the Indian Wells semi-finals when he takes on eighth seed Dominic Thiem on Thursday night at the BNP Paribas Open.
Single handed backhand enthusiasts will be jumping for joy as two masterclass exponents of the aesthetically-pleasing shot - Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem - square off in the BNP Paribas Open quarter-finals on Thursday night. It’s a little ironic that two of the more unreliable players in the top eight were the only competitors to both hold true to their seedings and reach the quarter-finals out of all the quarters, but Wawrinka and Thiem have been blessed with fairly fortuitous draws, and they’ve certainly made the most of them. Wawrinka will be hoping to secure a spot in his ninth Masters 1000 semi-final, while Thiem has never advanced beyond the quarter-final stage at Masters events. An entertaining contest is in prospect as two natural shotmakers collide in the final match on Stadium 1 on Thursday.
Wawrinka was largely untroubled in his first two Indian Wells matches against Paolo Lorenzi (6-3 6-4) and Philipp Kohlschreiber (7-5 6-3), but he was on the brink of elimination on multiple occasions during Wednesday’s Round of 16 clash with Japanese lucky loser Yoshihito Nishioka. Wawrinka was expected to come through the challenge with minimal fuss, considering Nishioka - while a very solid player - doesn’t really have the weapons to do major damage against the world’s best.
But that’s not what happened at all. Nishioka continually frustrated Wawrinka with his intelligent shot placement and supreme court coverage, with the three-time grand slam champion committing error after error in trying to paint the lines. Nishioka would serve for the match twice deep into the deciding set, but Wawrinka stepped up when it mattered most, crunching some menacing forehands and backhands as the youngster ultimately crumbled in an ensuing tiebreak. It was a nice, steely victory for Wawrinka, who has a history of bombing out of non-major tournaments when the going gets tough against lower-ranked opponents.
Indeed, Wawrinka was ousted by Damir Dzumhur at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in his only tournament since his Australian Open semi-final loss to Roger Federer. However, now that the biggest hurdles have been cleared (in Wawrinka’s case surviving the first week), the powerful Swiss is now as good a shot as anyone to emerge with the Indian Wells silverware. He’s the highest-ranked player left in the draw, and we all know once Wawrinka sinks his teeth into a tournament and makes the latter stages, he becomes a different beast entirely. I’d almost declare him favourite if he can navigate himself past Thiem.
Dominic Thiem (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
One of the top 10’s strugglers during the opening stages of the season (and for the last six months of 2016 mind you), things have turned around drastically for Thiem over the last month.
Following early exits at Brisbane, Sydney and the Australian Open - along with Sofia and Rotterdam - things were looking ominous for the Austrian as the tennis calendar prepared to roll into the current duel Masters 1000 events in Indian Wells and Miami. However a return to his beloved clay yielded a change in fortunes for Thiem, who secured his eighth ATP title at the 500-level Rio de Janeiro tournament last month - winning the crown without dropping a set.
A quarter-final loss in Acapulco looks average on paper, but Thiem fell victim to an explosive and inspired Sam Querrey, who went on to beat Nick Kyrgios and Rafael Nadal to win the title. Moving onto Indian Wells, Thiem has been clinical and avoided any big, draining battles under the blistering Coachella Valley sun. The 23-year-old opened his campaign with a 6-2 6-2 win over Jeremy Chardy, knocked over the dangerous Mischa Zverev 6-1 6-4 in the third round and eased past 10th seed Gael Monfils 6-3 6-2 in the Round of 16 on Wednesday night.
Thiem and Wawrinka have met on three previous occasions - and all three have been at Masters 1000 events. Thiem won their first encounter in Madrid in three sets back in 2014, while Wawrinka avenged that loss in Paris later that year and in Rome the following season - both in straight sets. However they haven’t met in two years, and both are different players to what they were in 2015. Wawrinka has solidified himself as a genuine top three player, while Thiem made massive strides last year to crack the top 10, highlighted by a first grand slam semi-final at Roland Garros. The backhand duel will be a treat to watch, but given we’ve now entered the business end of the tournament, I have to side with Wawrinka getting the job done and advancing to the semis.