Nearly 12 hours on court in Paris did not lie. Zverev then watched a Thiem lob land smack on the baseline as he fell 3-1 behind and his energy levels dropped.
"Just a pity that I couldn't capitalise on the chances in the 4-1 in the fourth set and some break points".
The 2017 US Open runner-up beat Yulia Putintseva 7-6 (7-5) 6-4 to advance to the last-four. The German also suffered 42 unforced errors, compared to Thiem's 20. The Austrian offered up a break-back point with a double fault, but compensated with remarkable reactions at the net, threw in another drop/lob combo, and led 3-1.
Thiem was outstanding throughout a one-sided quarter-final on Court Philippe Chatrier, not dropping his serve and hitting 25 winners as he moved a step closer to a first major final.
It got even worse for Nishikori in the second set as Thiem toyed with him, notably with a stunning drop-shot service return, and the Japanese could manage only nine points in the set.
While fatigue may come into play, Zverev has alleviated concerns over his fitness, saying he is mentally strong to rally on in the ongoing tournament.
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A tired backhand saw Zverev lose his serve again at the start of the second set, and despite earning a break point in the following game - which Thiem saved after a spectacular all-court rally - the match evaporated as a contest after that.
The two embraced warmly at the net: There is clearly no lack of respect for each other, and while this latest meeting did not live up to hopes and expectations, it promised plenty for the future.
In cold and damp conditions, Thiem's powerful groundstrokes, amplified by heavy topspin, would have caused problems for nearly anyone on the Parisian clay - maybe even Rafael Nadal. I didn't think about it too much. Prior to the event, my data had Zverev as marginally the better player on clay in the last 12 months, enough to make him a [1.80] - [1.90] priced favourite. I mean, probably now the third best after Rafa [Rafael Nadal] and Roger [Federer]. I'm not that young anymore.
"At the Grand Slams, there are the "Big Four". Cecchinato's ranking of No. 72 is the lowest in a decade for a man in the final eight at the French Open.
Former champion Novak Djokovic sprinted past Spain's Fernando Verdasco 6-3 6-4 6-2 to reach his 12th Roland Garros quarter-final.
Thiem admits that trying to make a Slam breakthrough during the same golden era as Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray has been particularly challenging. And the last 10 years you needed to beat at least two of them in a Grand Slam to win, and not many players did it. "I knew I had to take risks", Cecchinato said. He's definitely playing great tennis. Thiem then scored a fourth victory over the German in Rotterdam previous year 3-6 6-4 6-3.