Thiem keeping his expectations in check

 - Dan Imhoff

Two-time RG runner-up not looking too far ahead despite being dealt a favourable draw

Dominic Thiem, Roland Garros 2021, practice© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Dominic Thiem is in an elite group with a Grand Slam title to his name and multiple wins over each of the 'Big Three'.

It puts the Austrian at liberty to judge the mammoth task of squaring off against any one of the trio and which presents the biggest hill to climb.

For three straight years, Rafael Nadal brought an end to his campaign in Paris – in a 2017 semi-final and consecutive finals in 2018 and 2019.

“I think that all of them are super tough to play, and all of them have their favourite surface, as well,” Thiem said. “But in my opinion, to play Rafa here on the Chatrier court, it's still the toughest challenge.

“But I guess also outside of tennis, it's probably one of the most difficult things ever in sports in general to beat him here on this court, as his 102 matches is incredible, and as I said, one of the biggest achievements ever in sport. So face him here is probably the most difficult still.”

Thiem came close to toppling Djokovic in the Serb’s domain on Rod Laver Arena in a five-set Australian Open final last year before the monkey finally lifted from his back at Flushing Meadows, where on a route free of any of the 'Big Three' he landed his first major.

A path to a Grand Slam final clear of Nadal, Roger Federer and Djokovic is already a certainty before the first ball has been struck as Thiem is one of the 64 men presented with that chance in the bottom half of this year’s Roland-Garros draw.

While he would typically relish the prospect, the 27-year-old was circumspect given his leanest lead-in on the clay since he first announced himself as a contender in Paris.

“Maybe two, three years ago I would have been happy if would be that case, but I think the way I'm coming into that tournament, the way I also played the last weeks, the only thing I can focus on is the first rounds,” he said. “I shouldn't focus at all on who is in my quarter or even who is in my half.

“Of course I know that [the] 'Big Three' are all in the [top] half and I think Roger and Novak are even in one quarter, but for myself, it doesn't matter so much. I just basically focus now on the first round.”

That first round will come against Federer’s Geneva conquerer, Spaniard Pablo Andujar.

Despite a semi-final run in Madrid, Thiem's lead-up results amounted to a 4-3 record on clay, including a three-hour epic loss to Lorenzo Sonego in the round of 16 in Rome and a first-round defeat to Cameron Norrie in Lyon.

It was a steady road back for Thiem, having taken two months off to regroup mentally after his first-round exit in Dubai.

His faith now rested on a return to the major where he has won more matches than any other.

“That's my hope, yeah. First of all, to work myself into that tournament, I definitely need to play better than I did last week in Lyon,” he said. “If I do that, I mean, I'm practising and working hard to give myself a chance to play well at least. I hope I can do that in the match, as well.

“That's also what's necessary. It's definitely a little advantage for me as I'm sometimes a little slower starter that I have at least three sets instead of two.”