As we expected, the third round clash between a former champion Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem has been the match of the tournament so far, with the Austrian who emerged as a winner by 6-7 6-4 6-3 in 2 hours and 29 minutes for his first quarter-final result in Monte Carlo (he entered the tournament with a mediocre 3-4 score). Dominic has lost his serve only once but he had to battle for every point against Novak who played on a very high level while he had the strength in his body, and much better than at Indian Wells or Miami.
The Serb made an impressive return in the opening set but despite a great effort it wasn't enough to emerge as a winner, losing serve twice in sets two and three to hit the exit door, but there are clear signs of improvement in his game, and that's certainly the positive thing for a former world number 1.
This was the second win for Thiem in a row against Novak, beating him at Roland Garros last year as well, and he will now face Rafael Nadal or Karen Khachanov in tomorrow's quarter-final in what should be another great clash if Rafa scores an expected win.
The Austrian controlled his shots better, hitting 36 winners and 33 errors while Novak managed to fire 20 winners but also 40 unforced errors, struggling to find the pace with his backhand. Novak had a small advantage in the shortest points but Dominic overpowered him in the mid-range and long points, hitting with more depth and with more energy when the match reached the critical phase.
Thiem did everything right in the first eight games, firing deep and strong groundstrokes that kept Novak out from the comfort zone or from the chance to make something significant on the return. He held at love with a forehand winner in the opening game and broke Novak' serve with another powerful forehand in game two top open up an early advantage.
The Serb saved a set point on serve in game eight with a great volley and another two in the following game on the return, breaking back when Dominic hit a smash long to level the score at 5-5 and gain the momentum. The advantage was now on Novak's side and he grabbed the tie break 7-2 with five mini-breaks, converting the first set point after a double fault from Thiem.
The Austrian stayed focused and he broke in the fifth game of set number two after a poor backhand from Novak, taking control of the set and blasting a forehand winner to save a break point in the following game, opening a 4-2 lead.
Novak gave the set away in order to save energy for the decider, netting a backhand in game seven to fall 5-2 behind, allowing Dominic to serve for the set. This time there were no mistakes from the Austrian and he grabbed the set with a hold at 15 in game eight, entering the final set as the favorite.
Nothing could separate them in the opening six games of the deciding set but it was evident that Novak struggled to keep the piece with the younger opponent. He was 40-15 up in game seven but Thiem stayed in the game to eventually get the break that pushed him 4-3 in front and closer to the finish line.
The Austrian confirmed the break with an ace in game eight and Novak was now serving to stay in the match. That proved to be the longest game of the match and Novak wasted three game points before Dominic grabbed the break after another backhand error from Novak to book his place in the last eight.
The third seed Alexander Zverev has scored his 16th win of the season after a 6-4 4-6 6-4 triumph over the fellow German Jan Lennard-Struff in 2 hours and 3 minutes. This was their third meeting and the third win for Zverev who had to work hard against Jan-Lennard last year in Munich as well, prevailing in the third set tie break.
Sacha will certainly not be happy with the way he performed, winning just five points more than Struff and dropping serve seven times, finishing the match with 18 winners and 28 unforced errors. Jan-Lennard had more winners but also 53 errors, which plagued his chances for a better result, and he got broken eight times from 12 opportunities he gave to Zverev.
The younger German made the biggest difference in the mid-range points from five to nine strokes but he will have to raise his level if he wants to pass the quarter-final obstacle. Sascha was off to a solid start, breaking at love in game three and saving a break point in the following game to open a 3-1 lead.
Nonetheless, Struff got the break back in game six but he failed to move in front, losing serve again in game seven and Zverev closed the set with an ace in game 10 for a 6-4. The second set saw a poor tennis from both and we could trace seven breaks in 10 games, four for Struff who prevailed 6-4 after a double fault from Sascha in that 10th game.
It was one of the worst sets Zverev played in the last seven or eight months and he had just two winners and 16 errors. They traded breaks at the start of the final set as well and Sascha finally created the gap with a break at love in game five, cemented it with another break in game seven when Jan-Lennard netted a forehand.
Instead of finishing the match, Sascha lost his serve at love in game eight but he wrapped up the win with a hold in game 10 to book his place in the last eight. Third round results: