Order of Play: Wednesday 30 May
After a loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Barcelona, Dominic Thiem will look to turn the tables in Paris.
Big because ...
It wasn’t so long ago that Dominic Thiem was seen as the thrusting young gun of the men’s circuit but now as a 24-year-old tour pro who’s become an occasional Rafa-slayer on clay and regular visitor to the last-16 of major championships, he seems a veritable hardened veteran compared to the 19-year-old Next Gen star Tsitsipas, the former world No.1 junior whose big game is making a handsome impression this year. The Greek teenager has already beaten the No.7 seed and two-time Roland-Garros semi-finalist once this season - in the Barcelona quarter-finals - and is gunning for him again. Could a major upset be on the cards here?
The pair have met three times, all this year, with Thiem winning their opening two contests on the hard courts of Indian Wells and Doha, the latter demonstrating that perhaps Tsitsipas was coming to grips with the Austrian’s game in a tough three-setter. The real shocker, though, came on the Barcelona clay when the youngster capitalised on an error-ridden display to win 6-3 6-2, reeling off 14 straight points to seal the biggest win of his career to date.
Form coming in
It only adds to the intrigue that the pair are both in such sharp form. Thiem had enjoyed a solid clay-court campaign, with the highlight being his victory over Nadal in Madrid en route to the final. Defeating the great man on clay at any time is worth popping the champagne corks for; achieving the feat in consecutive seasons is a tale for the grandkids. Then last week, he came through a tough program to lift his first title of the year in Lyon. Tsitsipas started the year as No.91 in the world and has shot up to 39 with the real breakthrough coming in Barcelona where he knocked out three top-20 players and made his maiden tour final before being taught a lesson by Nadal.
This is Thiem’s best Slam, having made the semi-finals for the last two years and in 2017 destroying the defending champion Novak Djokovic in the quarters. He opened his 2018 campaign here with a swift first-round demolition of Ilya Ivashka while Tsitsipas, who was knocked out in the first round last year, is already savouring his best-ever Slam, having beaten Spain’s Carlos Taberner in the first round.
Aggression is going to be the keyword here. When the 1.91-metre tall Tsitsipas crushed Thiem in Barcelona, the Austrian seemed taken aback by the sheer aggression of the youngster who has a lovely single-handed backhand to rival his own similarly destructive weapon. Expect “the Dominator” to be on the front foot this time.
The Australian Open champion should face an interesting examination from the tall, big-serving Spaniard Garcia-Perez, who revels in the nickname “Hurricane Georgi”. The 26-year-old from Barcelona is the world’s 219th-ranked player but quite likes the idea that she is the fastest-serving woman in history, having one timed at 220kph in a match against Swiss Patti Schnyder in this February’s Budapest Open. Alas, WTA tournaments don’t recognise these figures recorded in qualifiers - and this one really was outlandish, almost 10km quicker than Sabine Lisicki’s official record of 210.8kph - but it didn’t stop the Spaniard posting hopefully on social media: “I hope one day you will give me the World Record Guinness.”
Thank heavens for Benoit Paire. A glorious eccentric in a sometimes monochrome world, his mad white-thatched, black-bearded look has captured a few headlines here already - “I'm trying to get out of it. My hair is very damaged. It's burnt. My head is burning!” he declared magnificently after his first round win - but now he’s out to make news of a different kind by beating No.19 seed Nishikori, who’s now making impressive-looking strides following the torn wrist tendon that sidelined him for five months. The Japanese has had the fine shotmaker Paire’s measure in their two previous meetings on clay but you just never know what to expect with the unpredictable "La Tige" - France’s unpredictable ‘Stalk’.