Dominic Thiem has got the four-set habit at Roland-Garros 2019. There are worse things than being safely through to the last 16, but last year’s runner-up could do with snapping his regular pattern so far, having dropped the second set in all three rounds to date.
Hesitant Thiem wins again
Austrian's new coach tells RG.com: "We're here to win the tournament."
This time it was the world No.47 Pablo Cuevas who stretched Thiem, but the Uruguayan was equalling his best-ever Slam by getting this far. In the heat of the afternoon on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, ultimately it was Cuevas who felt the burn. The Austrian took it 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5.
"It was my best so far. Not at all perfect yet," Thiem assessed. "He played well, especially in the beginning and then at the end of the match. I had a very bad start, but then I played very well. I was stupid to give the second set away like that, and then third and fourth was solid."
His prize is a fourth round against Paris hometown hero Gael Monfils, who has yet to drop a set here, but who trails Thiem 0-4 in their completed matches.
This third round joust was one of striking sights – Thiem standing so far back to receive serve that more than once the line judges had to dodge the swipe of his backswing; his really wonderful execution of the drop shot, initially heavily disguised to leave Cuevas hopelessly stranded, and then later deliberately offering a read on the shot, to tempt Cuevas into the net and then cruelly pass him; and perhaps most thrillingly, the two of them at times trading a whole string of one-handed backhands from opposite corners of the court, arms spread-eagled on the follow-through like a pair of rare birds in flight.
Now 25, Thiem was coached by Gunter Bresnik from the age of nine right up until February this year. That was when Thiem hooked up with Chile’s former world No.9 Nicolas Massu, who took over from Bresnik. Their new partnership yielded almost instant results when Thiem captured his maiden Masters 1000 title by beating Roger Federer in the Indian Wells Masters final.
He went on to beat Rafael Nadal in the Barcelona clay before lifting the title there too, and made the last four in Madrid.
Naturally Massu watched his charge defeat Cuevas here from the players’ box on court, and moments after witnessing Thiem seal match point, Massu spoke to rolandgarros.com about their progress so far.
“It’s important that he feels I am playing the match with him,” said Massu. “He played much better in this match than in the first two, playing great at some moments, and a few mistakes when he was up. That’s why he lost the second set. But five-set tennis is not easy.
“We are happy to work together. He is a great player, a real talent, a great person. The results are coming so fast, even though we’ve only been together three months. Every day is important for us because we are starting to know each other more and more. We are working very hard, with a lot of motivation and passion. We are both winners.
“But of course at 25 years old, he has developed a style of game, so the work we are doing is about very small things to make a very big difference. He’s No.4 in the world – I’m not telling him to change his forehand or serve or backhand.”
Born for clay?
Like Thiem, Massu’s favourite surface was clay – but the Chilean achieved his best wins on hard court. Does he want the same for Thiem?
“I was born to clay. There was nothing else for me. Dominic’s best results are on clay – semi-finalist here in 2017, 2018, final last year. But he has great talent for hard court. We are working very hard and I am giving my best to help Dominic achieve his goals.”
So Gael Monfils next. Naturally the home crowd will be behind the No.14 seed, but on the other hand the Austrian remained unruffled against Cuevas when the Lenglen crowd repeatedly chanted: “Pablo! Pablo!”
“Gael is a great player and we have a lot of respect for him, but Dominic is prepared to play anybody here,” declared Massu.
“If you want to win the tournament that’s what you have to do. It will be tough for Dominic but also for Gael. Dominic will fight from the first ball to the last.
"We are here to win the tournament. I want to make his dream come true. His goal is to be No.1.”