ATP Masters 1000Mutua Madrid OpenRoger Federer

Thiem Ends Federer’s Clay Court Comeback in Madrid

The Austrian edged an enthralling clash in 2 hours and 11 minutes

The first chapter of Roger Federer's clay court return is over after the Swiss was edged out 3-6 7-6(11) 6-4 by Dominic Thiem in a high-quality quarter-final.

The fifth-seeded Austrian had to save two match points en route to victory in 2 hours and 11 minutes and he was pushed all the way by Roger who was playing on the surface for the first time in three years.

The loss sees Roger chalk up his 21st defeat where he's held match points but he will surely take positives from his three matches at the Caja Magica which proved he's still difficult to put away regardless of the surface.

Quick Match Recap

Federer Thiem Madrid

Federer won the toss and elected to serve. A hold to thirty put him on the board and just like the Monfils match he made the peRFect start to break for 2-0.

A love hold consolidated the break for 3-0 and that was soon 4-1 with Roger landing 100% of his first serves. 

A further love hold put Roger up 5-2 and Roger kept his composure to take the first set 6-3, winning the longest rally of the set on set point.

Thiem had shown signs of life at the end of the first set with some more aggressive returning and he kicked off set two with a love hold.

Roger then found himself in trouble down 15-40 but he played smart on the break points to hold for 1-1.

More strong serving from Thiem saw him move into a 3-2 lead and the Austrian held more break points in game six as Roger slipped to 0-40 after a double fault. However, Roger again dug in, winning five points in a row to hold for 3-3.

The pair then exchanged holds with neither man able to fashion breakpoints and the set moved into a tie break.

Into the breaker and it was Federer who got off the better start moving into a 3-0 lead. That's perhaps the most misleading score in tennis as Thiem recovered to quickly level at 3-3.

The Austrian then went up a mini-break of his own after a slight mishit dropped in to give him a 6-4 lead. 

Roger saved the first on his own serve and then produced a brilliant return point, going after his groundstrokes with conviction then finishing with a dropper, to level at 6-6.

An ace gave Thiem a third set point at 7-6 but Roger reeled off two points on serve to give himself match point only to see his aggressive return land just out.

The Austrian then held a fourth set point at 9-8 but again Roger won both service points to lead 10-9. Thiem saved it en route to leading 11-10 and this time around Roger slipped up at 11-11 as Thiem produced a solid return off a serve and volley to lead 12-11 before finally converting set point to force a decider.

Into the third and Roger had to save a break point in the opening game to hold for 1-0. Thiem quickly levelled and then got the breakthrough to lead 2-1.

An immediate chance presented itself for Roger to get back on level terms at 15-40 but Thiem recovered for 3-1.

After an exchange of holds, a hold to fifteen kept Federer in touching distance and 3-4 and he made his move to break back helped with a slick return on break point. 

Unfortunately, parity was shortlived as Thiem ramped up his aggression to create 0-40 in the next service game.

Roger saved two of the breakpoints but chose to leave a looping ball that dropped in that gave Thiem a 5-4 lead and he served it out confidently to move into the semi-finals.

Match Stats

  Roger Federer Dominic Thiem
Aces 6 8
Double Faults 3 1
1st Serve 72% (76/106) 70% (67/96)
1st Serve Points Won 79% (60/76) 81% (54/67)
2nd Serve Points Won 47% (14/30) 55% (16/29)
Break Points Saved 83% (10/12) 60% (3/5)
Service Games Played 16 15
1st Serve Return Points Won 19% (13/67) 21% (16/76)
2nd Serve Return Points Won 45% (13/29) 53% (16/30)
Break Points Converted 40% (2/5) 17% (2/12)
Return Games Played 15 16
Winners 33 31
Unforced Errors 27 27
Net Points Won 66% (23/25) 70% (7/10)
Service Points Won 70% (74/106) 73% (70/96)
Return Points Won 27% (26/96) 30% (32/106)
Total Points Won 50% (100/202) 50% (102/202)
SABR 0% (0/2) 0


Press Conference

Thoughts on the Match

Federer Thiem Madrid 19

No, it’s been a good week. Frustrating, clearly. Losing with match points is the worst, so that’s how I feel. But nevertheless, if I take a step back, it’s all good. I feel very good about my game. I thought I had some good matches here, you know, especially last two. First one was good to get into it. And obviously, Gael and Dominic are tough on the clay so it was a good battle. I feel good on the clay right now. Federer on Madrid

A great match here and we got to see some high-quality tennis from both guys. I said in my match preview that the first set was key for Roger to give himself a chance of winning as it would ask Thiem to produce the goods when down in the scoreboard.

The Austrian managed it in Indian Wells when the two met in the final and he did so here too. Raising his level in the second set, taking advantage of the little bits of luck he received and playing super solid in the third set to come through.

I thought he did a great job of staying composed and ramping up his aggression when he needed to both on the return and from the baseline. His forehand was the key shot as he was able to produce great depth as well as spin to keep Federer pinned behind the baseline.

As for Roger, the only point he can really rue is the ball he left that dropped in on break point at 30-40 4-4 in the decider. It was in by a good couple of feet so poor judgement on that one.

Other than that I'm hard-pressed to say what he could have done better. Probably try to protect his second serve a little more in the third set but he saved 10 of 12 break points during the match and came within a whisker of winning.

Neither of the two match points were on his serve and he nearly hit a return winner on one of them so I don't think he can feel too hard done by, just one of those matches that can slip by as Thiem acknowledged in the press conference:

Today was so close, I was really lucky. Roger is playing really well on clay so I am really happy. He's so special, maybe the best player ever in tennis. It's so tough every single time you play against him, it´s pure beauty how he plays the game, every point against him is a challenge. It's also a bit about luck and I was the luckier one today. Thiem on his win against Federer

So a good week and it went pretty much how I expected, or maybe slightly better given how he was able to turn the Monfils match around when down a break. Moved well, looked physically strong and I'm looking forward to seeing how he handles the conditions in Paris.

The next question is, will he play Rome? He's in the draw but has not decided yet.

I couldn’t make the decision before the game so, unfortunately, I had to wait and see how this match plays out today, if it was going to be 6-0, 6-0 or 7-6 in the third. Winning or losing, it all matters, so it was an early ask for me to take that decision. I wanted to keep options open and that is why I’m in the draw. I’ll probably only decide on the weekend, but I’m not sure if I’m going to go. Federer on his participation in Rome

What did you guys think of the match against Thiem? Will he play Rome? Let me know in the comments.


Huge fan of Roger Federer. I watch all his matches from Grand Slam level right down to ATP 250. When I'm not watching or writing about tennis I play regularly myself and have a keen interest in tactics, equipment and technicalties of the sport.

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  1. It appears Federer can’t lose without at least having MPs most of the time. I’m supposed to be impressed but I’m mostly aggravated.

    But such is the life of a fan. A drug you can’t let go. My morphine.

    Stay slaying king.

    1. Yes, it’s exasperating. Google informs me that Federer has lost the most matches after holding match points (21, as Jonathan shares above), and that’s a record we could have done without. But then, he’s also won the most number of matches after being matchpoint down (18), so that evens out, doesn’t it? Watching him lose close matches still hurts, though. And the rationalisation happens afterwards. As you say, “such is the life of a fan.” 🙂

      1. Roger’s *played* rather more matches than anyone else on the tour, so is it so surprising? 🙂

      1. 6 of them, apparently, since AO 2017.

        Aargh – can’t find the reference now. Was on Twitter. Mentioned Donskoy, Haas, Kokkinakis.

  2. I love Thiems comment about luck and how he was the luckier today.Apparently he scored 102 points in total and
    Fed 100.
    A great match,Fed using all his great versatility and range of shots.Incredible first set.
    High quality match throughout.

  3. @PRF,
    Thanks for that link to the Rome draw.Cant understand why it is not on the ATP site.
    Certainly a kinder draw for Fed than this one,but doubtful he will play Rome.

    1. You mean, he could withdraw after the draw is done? It’s not seeding, it’s the draw.
      I think, Fed decided to play just after today’s loss.

    2. The Rome draw was on the ATP site about 30 minutes after it took place…

      @PRF He didn’t decide after the loss. He could withdraw, he said in press he did not have enough time to decide as it was done quite early. And he will decide at the weekend.

  4. That was such a close match! Good to see Federer go toe to toe on clay with the on-fire Thiem (who I find one of the nicest persons on tour).

    1. Couldn’t agree more.
      Thiem deserves his success after all his hard work and commitment to the sport.
      Personally he is just so nice.
      Let’s hope he now goes all the way.😊

      1. And very fair. He called the umpire to inspect ball marks, when Fed didn’t see the reason to call for a challenge and the umpire decided each time, Federer’s ball was good 🙂

  5. Thanks Jonathan for the quick recap. Couldn’t watch the match but I am sure it was a delight to watch Roger especially during that first set. Disappointing result being so so close. Maestro is ready for Rolland Garros and just hope he quickly recovers and keeps his zest for clay.

  6. Well, at least Madrid drew some of the best quotes from him. “We need a 🤡 for this circus!” and “We have a beach here!” 🤣
    Many thanks Jonathan, keep up your fantastic job!

  7. Ok, 2 wins in 3 matches. I wish I had those statistics!
    The only negative from today’s match is that we won’t get to watch another Roger’s match tomorrow. So, ladies and gentlemen turn off your phones, straighten your seats, next landing is… Rome? Paris? You choose. (And for heavens sake, stop checking the air hostesses out)

  8. Closer than I’d expected, I must admit – and sounds like a good match (I totally managed to forget about it until a good hour after it’d started – forgot the hour’s time difference!). Disappointing result, but the stats do rather seem to be in Dom’s favour, anyway. So, Roger’s had 3 matches on the clay, 5 hours or so – seems reasonable enough for the first time back, without being excessive. Wonder if he *will* play Rome?

    1. Forgetting the time difference 🙁 that’s like the dog ate my homework excuse!

      I’m not sure about Rome, 50/50 prob. Name in the draw adds a bit of pressure.

  9. Well, we said QFs would be a good result, and here we are. Plus as Jonathan pointed out he played him super tight – really can’t reproach himself for much there. Good result, & all gravy as I’ve said before.

    Before the season I thought he should play Rome instead since it’s supposed to play more like RG. Now I have mixed feelings. He’s already got several challenging matches under his belt, and he doesn’t want to overplay. On the other hand he doesn’t want to UNderplay either, & there’s almost too much time left between now & RG to go without matches. So on the whole if he’s feeling fit, I think I’d like to see him play. I thought on the whole he looked like more matches would do him more good than more practice. Another 3 matches in Rome would be about right; and even if he goes farther – which doesn’t seem terribly likely, given the draw – there’s still enough time to recuperate before RG.

  10. Not a popular opinion but Federer has the least mental strength out of the Big 3. It is only his one in 7.5 billion talent that gave him all the titles he has right now. If he is only on Nadal-level of mental strength, he would have won 110 titles, not 101. 🙂

    1. I used to agree with that but the more I thought about it I think it’s a bit of a myth and relates to their styles of play and how each one goes about playing matches.

      Lots of players are close to Federer’s level of talent. Yet have nowhere near as many titles.

      Maybe some stats can prove the argument he is. I know Fed’s record in deciding sets is certainly worse. But you’d need to look at the calibre of opponents and stage of tournament/career to really measure it.

      How many unnecessary 5 setters did Fed play early in his career? He could easily have inflated his W/L number with closer matches back in the day but he won so many routinely. Nadal for example, going 5 at Wimbledon against the likes of Kendrick.

      1. That’s true. I disagree though that “lots of players are close to Federer’s level of talent”. Not even Djokovic has that raw level of talent and I hate it when I hear Benoit Paire or such and such has the same talent as Federer but just wasted by weak mental game. Nope.

  11. I think even had Federer won he would have been spent for Djokovic tomorrow. Thiem will also be tired whereas Djokovic had a walkover against Cilic. Such a shame Federer couldn’t pull out the 2nd set tiebreaker . He played well, Thiem got a bit lucky but went after his shots in a positive way and didn’t just wait for Federer’s errors. On a fast court I’d take Federer . Hope he plays Rome and then has another 1 or 2 weeks off before Paris.

  12. A hard pill to swallow as Fed said, “losing with match points is the worse.” In a few days all will be good again. Don’t think he’ll play Rome. Perhaps see tomorrow.
    On another topic, I really don’t think they should show the hawk eye result after the chair ump has made a ruling. Just have one or the other. Personally, I prefer hawk eye even on clay. And not used to seeing Roger leave a ball that was in.
    Thanks Jonathan for all your dedication to the blog. We appreciate it.

    1. Roger left the ball, which was in to lose the match to Seppi in AO some years ago. Can happen to everyone. Once Thiem took the ball at the net, while both – him and the ball were clearly in the doubles alley and netted the ball. And it seemed to be easy volley. So happens not only to Federer 😉

      Yeah – the point (or it was first serve) given Fed by Thiem calling the umpire, who overruled the line call and then the Hawk Eye showing the ball was out (but showing only to TV Spectators) it was annoying.

      I know, the Hawk Eye is difficult to adapt to irregularities of the surface on a clay court, so why to use it at all?

    2. Yes,I felt Fed was pretty downbeat in that press conference,the quote you mention summed it up.
      Still it was a great match and he couldn’t have been closer.
      Let’s hope he doesn’t suffer any lack of confidence going forward.It must be incredibly frustrating to be so close and not seal the deal.
      I agree about Hawkeye.
      Yes ,a great blog indeed.

      1. What would you say about almost 5 hours of the US Open 2018 QF match between Thiem and Nadal, on the end lost by one missed smash (maybe blinded by the light, who knows). But Thiem was happy about his game and accepted, one the end one can simply have more luck. And looking like ready to play next match next day. Yeah – he was ready, Nadal won but was killed and could not play Delpo next round.

    3. Are they showing hawkeye on the big screen in the stadium or just on our TV screen? I thought it was only for TV.

      I think they should show it, we don’t get to see the mark so it’s good to know how close it was, whether they have the right mark or if they disagree.

      1. If they use it only for TV, it’s a complete nonsense. If they use it only for fine-tuning the system for the use on clay courts, they should not show anything.
        If they show it for TV, they should show it on the big screen for reasons you mention.
        But what if a players calls for challenge, the umpire corrects or confirms the line call and then everyone, including players can see, the umpire was wrong and the point was given not to the right person. Even bigger nonsense.

        I think, they should show it on the umpire’s screen to help him to give a verdict, if the ballmark is not unequivocal.

  13. Roger saves 2 MPs and wins the previous one. Lost a real close one today which obviously could have gone his way with a bit of luck which always plays a part in any match. I think he should get more match experience playing the next one in Rome. He will obviously decide based on how he feels and if playing back to back might mess with chances in the long run.

      1. TBH – I don’t like very much this kind of privilege. You enter the list and don’t withdraw before the draw ceremony, so you decided to play. To leave “all options open” is not fair.

        I remember Murray and Nadal doing the same, but it was never liked, also here.
        Because it makes a havoc in the draw.

        If Federer withdrew before the draw ceremony, for sure Thiem and Nadal would not meet each other in QF. Meanwhile some LL will play with Federer’s position in the draw.

        Do you like/accept it generally or only because it’s about Fed?

      2. I’m with you on this one PRF, I don’t like it when players withdraw after the draw is made. On the other hand I understand the need to get more complete information from a completed match before being able to say, yes, I’ll be able to play in another half a week.

        In any case I’m sure at this point the Rome TD. Is delighted that Roger stayed in the draw instead of pulling out because he wasn’t sure! 😉

      3. Well, no, I don’t like it either – but that’s what you get for having Masters back-to-back. You can’t wait to make the draw until the first one’s finished, so something has to give. It’s a bit different from, say, Murray withdrawing from the USO after the draw was made when he wasn’t in the middle of playing a tournament.

      4. And anyway, Roger didn’t actually *enter* Rome – it’s just that his name’s put in automatically and he didn’t withdraw it in time.

  14. Yes,Dom’s stats is better. As I was watching the match, I too could not help but feel that Roger was mostly playing reactive tennis because of the weight of Thiem’s shot (as remarked by Jonathon) and surely halfway in the 3rd set, on the TV screen appears the following info: Baseline Rallies won by Roger = 33%, by Dom = 67%. So even in what is deemed fast surface, Roger is struggling. Would be harder I suppose if he plays on slower FO or Rome.

    1. There was also an infographic displayed, showing the difference between return hit point for Thiem. It was average 3,5 m behind the baseline in first set and 1,5 m in both others. This was the key for Thiem to turn the tables.

      Fed’s tennis in first set was not reactive, it as more and more in 2 next sets. There was no remedy in his toolbox.
      Thiem’s shots were harder and faster. Roger tried to continue his attacking game, but it didn’t work. He was more easily passed when at the net. He had no time to give his shots a shape difficult for Thiem.

      Thiem’s game suits best fast clay courts or slow hard courts.

      About Federer’s game on different surfaces, it’s ambivalent. Depends on the opponent. It would be easier against Nadal (too fast for him). not against Thiem. Fast court gives him the advantage of speed of his shots, they don’t die after the bounce.

    2. Yeah Thiem moved further up the court on the return which worked for him. I think Fed’s serve speed dropped just a touch in 2nd and 3rd sets too. Not by a lot but a couple of km/h.

      1. Maybe because he has noticed, Thiem is staying closer and his margin for serve fault and serve a returnable was smaller, so he needed to serve slower to behave reasonable balance?

        Not sure, if such a small averegae speed change can have some real influence on the game, what do you think?

        I guess, they have np device allowing to set the serve speed, like – I serve now 207,5 kmh 😉
        But hitting the return 3 m closer to the line, this is of course a relevant factor.

  15. Roger a bit down and who could blame him, if he doesn’t
    now win quickly then he eventually struggles at the finish.
    No shame when you factor in age dif., and quality of the
    other player. Given all that it is truly amazing that he can
    take DT to the brink…what a player Federer still is. I hope
    Dominic gets off to a better start against Djokovic because
    when he loses first sets it all so much more of a grind. So
    congrats to Thiem and be lucky in your next match. Looks
    like Rafa injury free fairly swept Stan off the court now
    that’s a surprise!!!!!!

    1. It’s always tough to lose the first set (if it’s not 5-setter).

      Thiem often loses first sets, often gets broken in his first service game, but (this is a big change in his game) this year he is 4:1 in deciders. Not that bad 🙂

      He was also known (until 2018 ) to not be able to win two matches against great opponents in a row. If he beat Djokovic and next was Nadal, he was taking heavy beating. Next time he defeated Rafa and next was Djokovic, giving him heavy beating.

      This has changed, so I will not be scared if he loses first set to Djoker or Djoker is at his best and Thiem emotionally exhausted by the Federer match.

      The difference will be, he cannot push Djoker back or let him run so he starts not to reach balls. He Djoker is not yet 37 😉

      But it should not be a one-sided affair.

      I’m sure, Thiem will give all to win next 2 matches. Of course this can be not enough. Main thing, he still plays quality game. He may want badly to win first Masters on clay, but of course RG is more important.

      1. Given Roger’s big ego, I agree.

        Even if he had no reasons to expect to come beyond QF.

        Maybe this feelings changed because the match was so close?

      2. Probably, having match points and breaking back for 4 in the third all is going to annoy any player regardless of who they are.

  16. BTW – I’m recording all Thiem’s matches. This time the match was also Federer’s. Let me know, if there is interest to watch the match from record.

    I will post the link to this record, but this is the link to my blog. Some of you think, I’m promoting here my blog. That’s why I want first to know, if you want it.

  17. I love this stat… awesome !

    Bastien Fachan

    “Since the start of 2017, Roger Federer is a stellar 120-18. Out of those 18 losses, he had match points in 6 of them (Donskoy, Haas, Del Potro, Anderson, Thiem x2) and only 5 were in straights. This, to me, is the most remarkable stat about Federer’s late career surge”.

    1. Yeah, rare he goes down without resistance. If Fed was French, how many titles would he have? Less than 10? 😆

      Kokkinakis missing from the list and Thiem just once.

    1. Yes, I just got that information now. He’s looking into putting workout hours on the muscles. 2 “real” matches seems a bit short and he said he felt strong. Nice move and we get to watch more of Roger, which can only be a good thing provided the health is there. Allez!

  18. Hi I’m sure this question has cropped up before but has anyone ever beaten Rog, Novak and Rafa to win tournament. Somehow doubt it but good luck to Thiem anyway

    1. It was David Nalbandian – add del Potro to that 😉 This was en route to win Madrid Masters 2007. Here is a video compilation.

  19. Late to comment but really enjoyed yr post!
    Every 6-3 first set to Roger v zoom has resulted in a loss… quirky stat put out on Twitter!

    Disappointed but not gutted altho of course Dom was more error prone v Novak!

    Enjoyed ur posts this week

  20. Frustration yes, but to a nice commenting opponent. And I’ve seen quite as nice comments from Roger also, when winning by a small margin to another talent.

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