German Olympic champion, Alexander Zverev, will be making his long-awaited return to action on Thursday at the Diriyah Tennis Cup, staged over three days of intense competition in Saudi Arabia.
On Wednesday, the official draw ceremony revealed a first-round clash between Zverev and Thiem.
In case of advancing to the quarterfinals, the two-time Nitto ATP Finals champion will next play second seed, Medvedev.
The Hamburg native has been sidelined from Tour since June, undergoing surgery after he tore all three lateral ligaments in his right ankle while contesting the semifinals at the French Open against eventual champion Rafael Nadal.
The shocking scenes showed Zverev in extreme pain, leaving the court in a wheelchair after battling Nadal for over three hours across a top-level encounter when at 6-6 in the second set - the Spaniard won the opener 7-6, the unfortunate injury happened.
Minutes later, he returned on crutches to confirm his withdrawal from the match.
The World No. 12 experienced a long and challenging recovering process which suffered a setback last September as he was diagnosed with a bone edema, which also required surgery.
The new injury prevented the 25-year-old from returning to action at the Davis Cup to represent Germany, leaving uncertainty about his short-term future.
Zverev, who had already joined the German team in Hamburg, spoke at the time with daviscupfinal.com, stressing: “I am very disappointed to miss out playing on this week.”
“I have a bone edema issue which causes me quite a lot of pain. I don’t know if it happened yesterday or not, but in practice with Oscar [Otte], it got to the point where I couldn’t run or walk anymore.
“I subsequently found out that it was a bone edema, which means I won’t be able to participate here, and it is not a question of days, it is more a question of weeks or, most likely, even months.”
Only hours separate the young player from hitting back the court in Diriyah, a crucial test of his confidence in his body and his game overall.
Alongside Medvedev, he was one of the first players to confirm his presence at the exhibition event that will take place at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Diriyah, seeking to begin gaining match fitness ahead of the upcoming season.
Interviewed by the tournament organization, he spoke on their YouTube channel about choosing the tournament as the scenario for his comeback.
“I just hope that as many fans as possible come and fall in love with the game of tennis.”
Adding: “I think there were not a lot of opportunities to see the best players in the world in Saudi Arabia.”
Further commenting on his expectations towards his first appearance at a competitive level, he outlined: “The best players in the world are there, so it’s gonna be a high-level tournament, and I think everybody’s in form because they’re still either coming from Davis Cup or they just came from the ATP Finals so everybody will still be playing great tennis, and I hope I can keep up with them.”
On Tuesday, the 19-time ATP titlist was seen under the sun on Center Court, practicing with Wawrinka.
Thiem, 29, is on a comeback trail himself, moving on to find his way back to the top after a right wrist injury sustained in June 2021 brought his season to an abrupt end, dropping in the Rankings from a career-high at World No. 3 to be out of the top 300 by July.
However, the Austrian player, who first tested himself on court at the Anytech365 Andalucia Open - an ATP Challenger 125 celebrated last March in Spain, went the distance to wrap up his 2022 season last October, finishing back into the top 100.
“The past two years were tough, but I’m so glad and thankful it’s going in the right direction,” he wrote on his Twitter account.
Currently, he stands at World No. 105, having reached back-to-back quarterfinals after impressive runs at the Nordea Open in Bastad and then at the Swiss Open in Gstaad.
In preparation for next season, he is playing the Diriyah Tennis Cup and the World Tennis League in Dubai.