Dominic Thiem Can He Win his First Grand Slam in the Roland Garros Final?

Roland Garros Thiem

Photo courtesy of ici.radio-canada.ca

Dominic Thiem has reached the Roland Garros final after defeating Marco Cecchinato in straight sets and is now into his first ever Grand Slam final. The Tennis Review asks if Thiem can he win his first Grand Slam on Sunday at Roland Garros.

Before the tournament, there were doubts as to Thiem’s French Open championship chances. Thiem had suffered a  one sided defeat in Monte Carlo (Nadal), been upset in Barcelona (Tsitsipas), been dismissed in the Madrid final (Zverev),  suffered an early loss in Rome (Fognini), and had endured a pretty grueling run to the title in Lyon.

Those doubts have been put to rest now that Thiem has exceeded his own seeding (7) and other’s expectation by reaching his first slam final and at the tournament he has been tipped to win since he first made a name for himself as one of the game’s best clay courters.

Thiem has worked hard to reach this stage of his career, but he has had a bit of a helping hand in the last two weeks. They say that you need a little luck to win your first slam, and Thiem has had his fair share this Roland Garros. In his second round match versus Stefanos Tsitsipas who beat him in Barcelona, Thiem was involved in quite a battle before poor light stopped play. Thiem was also a little lucky to face a Sascha Zverev coming into their quarter final match on the back of three consecutive five set matches and to get that match won in three very straightforward sets. Thiem was fortunate, too, in his semi, facing Marco Cecchinato, a first time slam semi-finalist. The Italian may have made Thiem work for his win in the first two sets, but lacked the experience to keep himself in the match once he had blown his chances in the second.

Thiem has taken his luck with the gratitude it deserves, playing superb tennis at times, the right mix of powerful baseline hitting, taking time away from his opponents, moving forward to finish points and showing us some fine touch, as well,  on his way to reaching his first Grand Slam final.

Most importantly, Thiem has managed to not just move on from a somewhat dispiriting run going into the tournament, but has also put any mid match mishaps behind him such as that fluffed volley on set point in the second set tiebreak versus Cecchinato. Thiem did not implode and get himself embroiled in a real dog fight out there, instead, he expressed his fury with himself for making such an error and then moved on, competing to the best of his abilities, and in the process winning the set, and then dominating the third like someone competing in his third consecutive Roland Garros semi-final versus a first timer out there on the big stage.

In his first slam final, Thiem faces ten time champ Rafa Nadal who defeated Juan Martin del Potro in straights, running away with the match after a tricky first set in which the Spaniard had to save six break points.

Facing Nadal for your first Roland Garros title is a fitting step in the sporting rite of passage Thiem has earned for himself, and, while the task is the most daunting one Thiem could face in the current Clay court competitive climate, in Thiem’s favor is the fact he is the only player to defeat Nadal in the past two clay court seasons (Rome ’17, Madrid ’18).

Granted, Nadal has the upper hand in their recent two year clay court rivalry period (leads 4-2   and 6-3 career) and the top seed did defeat Thiem in last season’s Roland Garros semi-finals for the loss of just 7 games.

That 2017 Roland Garros Nadal victory came versus a Thiem coming down after delivering his best ever Grand Slam performance, defeating Novak Djokovic in the last eight, the Austrian bageling in the third set the defending champion who had beaten him convincingly in the Rome semis a few weeks before.

That Rome loss, coming off the back of Thiem inflicting on Nadal his only clay court loss of the season, was another of Thiem’s let downs after a big win, an unfortunate hall mark of Thiem’s career, rearing its ugly head even as recently as Monte Carlo where he beat Djokovic only to lose to Nadal and winning a mere two games.

This Roland Garros, however, there is little risk of a similar fall from up high when he faces Nadal in the final.

This time, Thiem goes into the final on the back of winning matches in which he was the favorite- Zverev may have been the higher seed, but the slower Roland Garros conditions were more suited to Thiem than the German-and this upcoming final  is the first match at this year’s Roland Garros in which Thiem will be the underdog.

This match is the upset Thiem will be going after with fresh legs, a hungry mind, and, if he plays well, plenty of adrenaline to wash away any nerves.

Those Thiem legs are going to be a little wobbly to say the least. That this is Thiem’s first slam final is a blessing and a curse- on the one hand, Thiem has no scars from previous final defeats, but on the other hand he could suffer stage fright, and no doubt he will.

In the best case scenario, Thiem eats up those nerves with the appetite of a champion,  comes out swinging and if he does lose it is because he forces Nadal to raise his game to its very heights; in the worst case, Thiem chokes, the match races away from him and he has the grass season to lick his wounds.

Which one happens, and it might be the case Thiem swings from one end of the spectrum to the other at different stages of the match, all depends on Thiem and how he deals with those wobbles.

One way of coping for Thiem should be by the seventh seed reminding himself that while top seeded Nadal may be a 10 time champion, he, Thiem, is very much the heir apparent and has arguably had the more convincing run to the final.

Once you tear up the match on paper and throw it on the fire, Thiem really has nothing and no one to fear out there on Philippe Chatrier on Sunday. Thiem has worked towards this goal his whole tennis playing life, has finally arrived at a place in his tennis career where he is capable of handling the lows and the highs that come with being a Grand Slam contender and is in a position to contest the championship match, and while his opponent in that match is none other than Rafa Nadal, the Spaniard has been vulnerable this clay season, as he was when Thiem beat him in Madrid and Zverev led him by a break in the third in Rome, as he has been even this Roland Garros when he came up against Simone Bolelli and Diego Schwartzman who both had him rattled in their most aggressive streaks of play, the kind of streaks Thiem can turn into a consistent barrage.

 

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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