Thiem takes final leap at RG

Dominic Thiem ends Marco Cecchinato's unlikely run to become the second Austrian to reach a Grand Slam final.

Dominic Thiem, Roland Garros 2018, Simple Messieurs, 1/2 Finale©Philippe Montigny / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

After years of anticipation, hearing his name rolled out as worthy of breaking into the established Grand Slam-winning hierarchy, Dominic Thiem now stands one win from his first major.

The Austrian ended the surprise run of unheralded Italian Marco Cecchinato in the Roland-Garros semi-finals on Friday; a simple fist pump and a smile in the direction of his team was the humble recognition of a job not yet complete.

For the past two years, Thiem had fallen at the semi-final stage to the eventual champion – in 2016 to Novak Djokovic and last year to Rafael Nadal – but against the 72nd-ranked Italian, he lived up to heavy favouritism to post a 7-5 7-6(10) 6-1 result.

“I don't think it's a real breakthrough,” said Thiem, keen not to be overawed by the hype. “I mean, I played semis last two years, so just went one step further today.

“The second-set tie-break was the big key to the match, 100 per cent, because obviously he felt all the matches from these two weeks after that. And if he would have won the tie-break, he would be full power, for sure, in the third set. So it was good for me that I won it.”

At just 24, the Austrian already considers himself an experienced campaigner at the business end of the majors but so it proved against Cecchinato, a player who had never won a Grand Slam match prior to this year’s event.

Seeded No.7, Thiem weathered a torrid clay-court tussle in the opening two sets against a 25-year-old who had already taken down seeds Pablo Carreno Busta, David Goffin and Djokovic en route to the final four.

Thiem set the tempo early, breaking in the opening game and finding his marks, with his heavy work on the ball bullying the Italian about the court. After he had secured a tight opener, the players could not be separated on serve throughout the second set.

Three times in a mammoth tiebreak Cecchinato’s drop shots caught out Thiem, buried deep behind the baseline. But it was the Austrian who held steadier amid a surging crowd willing on his opponent.

Four set points went begging – Cecchinato, too, had three of his own – before Thiem reeled off three straight points and crouched in celebration having secured a two-set lead.

“It was not a very nice feeling,” Thiem said of missing so many set points, particularly the first. “It was 6-4. The one thing I wanted was to finish the tie-break and I missed the easy volley – it was destructive a little bit.”

The world No.8 hammered home his two-set advantage as a drop-shot winner sealed the immediate break to open the third.

And when Cecchinato surrendered the double break on a string of sloppy errors the finish line quickly came within sight. A gruelling fortnight and inspired opponent finally got the better of the Italian.

“Yeah, if I won the second set, I think is totally different the third set,” Cecchinato said. “But after the loss, I go a little bit down mentally, and physically I played so many matches, so I think it is normal.

“Every match I played very well against top 10, top 20, top 30. So now I think positive and maybe I can go also top 20.”

Thiem is the first Austrian through to a Grand Slam final since Thomas Muster won Roland-Garros in 1995.

And while only a toddler when his ironman compatriot triumphed over Michael Chang to win his sole major, the significance was not lost on Thiem.

“Yeah, he sent a message to my physio because they work together,” Thiem said. “We have a special relationship because of the match we played when he made his comeback in Vienna.

“He's a role model for every Austrian tennis player. He's the biggest in our sport in Austria.”

Ten-time champion Rafael Nadal or Argentine Juan Martin del Potro will stand between Thiem and that maiden major.

One step further and he would cement his name alongside Muster. That would announce his real breakthrough.