The case for: Dominic Thiem
Seventh seed romps through Part II of his second-round enounter with Barcelona conqueror Tsitsipas.
It’s rare a player of Dominic Thiem’s calibre has a point to prove so early on at a major these days.
While in only his fifth full season seeing his name among the 128 hopefuls at a Grand Slam, the 24-year-old is instilled as a second favourite behind 10-time Roland-Garros champion Rafael Nadal to land the title.
And while the old “I don’t take any player in the draw lightly” is a go-to line for any leading contender on the eve of any tournament, a certain Greek world No.39 warranted some added pre-match attention when he advanced to a second-round meeting with Thiem.
In a battle between two of the finest single-handed backhands on tour, Stefanos Tsitsipas had routed the seventh seed on his way to a maiden tour final in Barcelona only weeks ago.
The rangy 19-year-old with his long, sandy blond hair hanging beneath his headband, was arguably the toughest early draw Thiem could have been dealt; an opponent bidding to become the first Greek man to reach a Grand Slam third round since Wimbledon in 1969.
When darkness interrupted overnight the Austrian was understandably relieved he only had to return before a packed Court 18 for 35 minutes on Thursday to complete the 6-2 2-6 6-4 6-4 result.
“Yeah, it was a very good match, I think. The key was, for sure, that I went home yesterday with a one-set lead. It was really important,” Thiem said. “The first set today was very, very good tennis from me. Very focused and everything. But still, the key for the match was the third set yesterday night.”
Strolling onto court after Grigor Dimitrov and Jared Donaldson’s four-hour, 19-minute epic late on Wednesday afternoon, Thiem began the highly anticipated battle in a hurry, crunching heavy-kicking groundstrokes deep for winners or drawing wild errors from his slighter opponent.
Taking the first set yet suffering through a disastrous second set, Thiem had regrouped to eke out a 52-minute third stanza before play was called due to bad light.
It was the edge the Austrian deemed pivotal.
Thiem’s is a name deservedly thrown into title discussions as one of only three players this season to have snared at least two clay-court trophies. Bigger still, he is the only man to have beaten Nadal on clay in each of the past two seasons. He did so in Rome only weeks ago.
A preparation sufficient, surely, to mount a challenge for his maiden Grand Slam trophy on his best surface? For Thiem, it seems, no amount of match-play is ever quite enough. Eyebrows were raised when he opted to contest an additional smaller tournament in Lyon only last week. Career title No.10 was delivered on Sunday but at what expense to his energy reserves if he was to push deep at Roland-Garros?
“[It was a] really good tournament, victory last week, was great for my confidence. Always something special,” Thiem said. “And then the first match here was good, and Tsitsipas was for sure one of the toughest second-round opponents possible here, and I did it in four sets.
“It was overall a very good match, so my shape is great and I'm ready for everything that's coming up.”
Italian 22-year-old Matteo Berrettini awaits in the third round after the world No.96’s four-set triumph over former Roland-Garros semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis on Wednesday.
Take Thiem’s word for it. He’s ready for whatever contender the draw can throw at him.