There will be a Spaniard on the opposite side of the net from Dominic Thiem on Wednesday. It just won’t be Rafael Nadal.
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal is out and first alternate Pablo Carreno Busta is in for the second day of World Tour Finals Group A round-robin competition. That means Thiem and Carreno Busta will be going head-to-head for the fifth time in their careers at the ATP level, with Thiem currently sweeping the series 4-0. The Austrian has prevailed three times on their preferred clay-court surface, most recently via a 7-5, 6-4 decision in the Rio de Janeiro final earlier this season. Their only previous hard-court encounter came at last year’s U.S. Open, where Thiem got the job done 1-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-5.
The U.S. Open is where things started to go south for Thiem in a hurry this season. The fourth-ranked Austrian advanced to the fourth round, but at that point he led an illness-stricken Juan Martin Del Potro 6-1, 6-2 before collapsing and failing to capitalize on two match points en route to a 1-6, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6(1), 6-4 defeat. He has not yet recovered–although that may have more to do with the surface given that Thiem much prefers clay to an indoor hard court–or any kind of hard court. The 24-year-old is 8-11 in his last 19 tournament matches after falling to Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 in his London opener on Monday.
Carreno Busta’s 2017 U.S. Open was also extremely notable, and for a much different reason than that of Thiem. The world No. 10 improbably went one step further than he did at the French Open, where he made a run to the quarterfinals. Carreno Busta benefited from a favorable draw in New York to reach the semis, beating Denis Shapovalov in round four and Diego Schwartzman in the quarters. The 26-year-old should have been on his way to direct London qualification thereafter, but he has been nothing short of a disaster this fall and that allowed Jack Sock to overtake him in Paris. Carreno Busta is a horrific 1-6 in his last seven matches (1-5 in five tournaments during the fall swing).
Somewhat surprisingly given his poor record indoors, Thiem has never played a particularly bad match in four outings at the O2 Arena. Last year he pushed Novak Djokovic to three sets, beat Gael Monfils, and lost a tight two-setter against Milos Raonic. He should be able to take advantage of an opponent who is making an unexpected debut in this event.
Pick: Thiem in 3