Thiem on the double for next slam challenge

 - Chris Oddo

Backing up a Grand Slam title is something new for Dominic Thiem, and even he is curious to find out how he will respond.

Dominic Thiem, Roland Garros 2020, practice© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

At 27 years of age, Dominic Thiem is now in a position where he can rely on his experience.

He turned pro in 2011 and has been a fixture at the Grand Slams since 2014. All well and good, but the Austrian is in uncharted waters when it comes to playing matches as a major champion, and there is no set playbook to deal with all the emotions that come with it.

Like all challenges, this is one that the strapping Austrian relishes, but can the two-time Roland-Garros finalist rise to the challenge so soon after celebrating the biggest moment of his career? 

“I achieved a life goal, a dream of myself, which I had for many, many years,” Thiem said just two short weeks ago when he claimed the US Open title in New York. “I put a lot of work in. I mean, I dedicated basically my whole life until this point to win one of the four majors. Now I did it.” 

Listening to Thiem address the media on Friday in Paris it is easy to get a sense of the challenges he now faces.

On one hand he wanted to celebrate, to give back to those who guided him on his journey from a young, eager junior all the way to his realisation of the ultimate goal. On the other hand, with the spectre of Roland-Garros in autumn looming, Thiem must keep his eyes on the prize.

Family at core of celebrations

“I mean, it was not easy because on one hand I've achieved a life goal actually, so I was so happy, so relieved,” he told reporters on Friday in Paris. “I was enjoying that obviously at home with family and friends.” 

Thiem is focused on navigating this new challenge in his career, but even he is not quite sure how he will handle it. Many believe he’ll play more liberated tennis now that he has finally won a major.

The monkey off his back, he can play with reckless abandon, guided by the confidence gained from his victory in New York. 

But there’s also the flip side: Now that he’s proven himself on the Grand Slam stage he will be expected to lead a new generation of challengers as they try to tear down the great wall of the Big Three. 

That remains a monumental task, and a lot to ask of a guy who has spent much of the last weeks celebrating with friends and family. 

“I'll see how I handle all the emotions, also all the physical challenges, which happened in New York,” he said. “In the past I was not that great playing the tournaments after big titles like Indian Wells last year, or Vienna.

"I've always played not that great the following week. I will try to do it differently here in Paris, try to be on top of my game from Monday on.”

Dominic Thiem, Roland-Garros 2018.©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

A perfect problem to have

No Open Era men’s player has ever won their first two majors at successive Grand Slams. To do it at Roland-Garros, Thiem will have to weave through a brutal draw, one that sets him up for a first-round clash with former Grand Slam champion Marin Cilic, and potential battles with rising clay-courter Casper Ruud and former champion Stan Wawrinka - all before a slated semi-final with Rafael Nadal

One gets the feeling that no challenge is too big for Thiem, with his potential fully unlocked now. But is it too soon for it to be Thiem’s time in Paris?  

“The preparation on clay was not ideal,” Thiem said on Friday. “I had two practice days in Austria, arrived two days ago here. I'm going to have four practice days here at Roland Garros. In total, six days practice on clay, which is not a lot.” 

Thiem’s coach, Chilean Nicolas Massu, believes his protegé's tight turnaround is a perfect problem to have. There’s nothing to worry about here - just move forward. 

“I prefer to be in this situation after he wins the tournament, so it's a good problem,” Massu said in New York. “It's a nice problem that you need to recover from these kinds of things when you won a Grand Slam and it is the first time in your career.”