Madrid - Dominic Thiem lost to Alexander Zverev in the Madrid Masters
final on Sunday and then said the German is now the best player in the world
beneath Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
Zverev has long been marked out as a future star of the
men's game and his 6-4, 6-4 victory over Thiem suggests the German can be a
major threat at the French Open later this month.
Thiem had ousted Nadal in the quarter-finals on Friday and
he too will be among the small group capable of preventing the Spaniard from
claiming an 11th Roland Garros crown.
But the Austrian was outplayed, and over-powered, by Zverev,
who collects his third ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title, the most prestigious
tier of knock-out tournament beneath the four Grand Slams.
Zverev is now one of five active players to have won three,
the others being Federer, Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.
Those four are all aged 30 or older, while Zverev is 21, with
Djokovic and Murray both attempting recovery missions after injury.
"I would say probably now, besides Roger and Rafa, he's
the best," Thiem said. "You just need to look at his results."
Ranked third in the world, Zverev is yet to transfer his
talent and success in Masters events to Grand Slams, however, where his best
result remains reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon last year.
On this evidence, that breakthrough is surely close, with
the crowd on Manolo Santana court treated to an impressive display of
aggressive baseline hitting. Thiem's 21 errors to Zverev's 12 were also key.
"Rafa is the favourite, no matter where he plays, on a
clay court," Zverev said. "He's going to be the favourite in Rome,
he's going to be the favourite in Paris. He's still the guy to beat."
The players in Madrid this week have remarked on the
quickness of the courts and that has suited Zverev, whose demon serve was
almost untouchable in the opening set.
After conceding an early break for 2-0, Thiem's only sniff
came at 5-4 when he opened up 0-30 on the Zverev serve. But his opponent did
not waver, letting out a roar of relief after clinching the frame.
Another break in the first game of the second meant Thiem
was again playing catch-up and Zverev could have moved 3-0 clear had Thiem not
saved two more break points.
Instead, Thiem stayed in touch to make Zverev serve out. A
sumptuous half-volley opened up two match points and Zverev took the first when
a final Thiem forehand floated long.
"It's a great feeling," Zverev said.
"Hopefully this will not be my last, hopefully I can continue to improve,
and win a few more."