Thiem tames Cilic: Things learned from Austrian's opener

Two-time finalist passes first major hurdle beating a fellow US Open champion

Dominic Thiem, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Julien Crosnier / FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

Someone forgot to remind Dominic Thiem of the status quo for new champions.

Preparations ahead of an opening match at a subsequent major for any first-time Grand Slam winner are meant to be riddled with nerves.

For the US Open titlist not to have had a match on such a contrast in surface only two weeks later against fellow major winner, Marin Cilic, could have compounded the situation.

A two-time Roland-Garros runner-up, Thiem had no chance of working his way into this year’s tournament against an opponent of the Croat’s credentials.

No worries on that front. These are the things we learned from a resounding 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 victory.

A little tension won't hurt

Thiem had won all three prior meetings against former world No.3 Cilic but had conceded a set to him in the third round of his Flushing Meadows title run earlier this month.

Turns out it was a challenge the Austrian hankered for right from the off, a sure-fire way to really determine where he stood.

“Maybe there is some little extra motivation or some extra per cent in myself, because I know that I have to play my best tennis to beat Marin because of all the things he achieved and because he's still playing really, really good,” Thiem said.

“The main challenge was to have or to get the match tension again. Because, I mean, I was on fire in New York for two weeks, and then one week at home where I tried to relax but not lose all the tension, because obviously I want to do well here in Paris. I guess I found a good mixture.”

Right at home in the cold

Prior to landing the silverware on Arthur Ashe Stadium, the No.3 seed had enjoyed most of his major success in Paris, having reached the final the past two years and the semi-finals the two years prior to that.

Where many are drawn to Paris for the fromage and vin, for Thiem, Roland-Garro's terre battue has the same effect.

Clearly playing in Paris agrees with him and he is not simply comfortable with the change in conditions as a result of the later start - he thrives on it.

“I know how to play in those kind of conditions obviously because in Austria, we have many days like that,” he said. “And then from junior times and when I started to play professional on the futures in March in Croatia or Czech Republic, there were many tournaments with similar conditions. Cold, heavy balls.

“So it's not really something new for me, and it helps against guys like Marin, because it's a little bit easier to return many serves back in the court and to run down almost every ball. So I like these conditions.”

It’s a not so happy birthday for Cilic

It was four years since Cilic had fallen at the opening hurdle in Paris but with his ranking having dipped to No.40 he was always at risk of drawing such a big name.

While there were glimpses of the shot-making, which carried him to the 2014 US Open title and Slam finals in Melbourne and London, the only number he was consistently raising on Monday was his error count.

For a a two-time quarter-finalist and former junior champion, this was not the kind of 32nd birthday he had planned. 

No guilt for Cilic, at least, if the fromage and a glass of vin are in order.

Dominic Thiem, Novak Djokovic, Roland-Garros 2020, entraînement@Loïc Wacziak/FFT

Thiem determined to help a mate

Following his US Open triumph, the Austrian told Swiss newspaper Blich he had been in contact with his Swiss neighbour, Roger Federer, and was humbled the 20-time major champion had offered his best wishes.

Asked whether Federer would be cheering on his Roland-Garros campaign from afar, the No.3 seed joked he had his back.

“I promise I will do everything I can to keep Roger number one,” he laughed. “He congratulated me, wrote a long message, which made me very happy.

“We are also in regular contact. In the run-up to the US Open, we kept talking to each other on the phone… I’m very happy when Roger is back on tour. Everyone feels that way.”