Dominic Thiem vs Marin Cilic: A Battle Of Struggling Contenders

Dominic Thiem at the Australian Open

On the face of it, Dominic Thiem vs Marin Cilic shouldn’t be a third-round encounter. One of them is a former US Open champion and the other is a Grand Slam finalist, but that’s how rankings work. Marin Cilic had a sub-par 2019 and finds himself hanging onto a seed by the barest margin. His opponent, Dominic Thiem, meanwhile transformed into a force to be reckoned with on the hard courts, reaching the finals at the Australian Open 2020.

That being said, the No. 2 seed finds himself struggling for his best form. which takes this match-up to somewhat even grounds. This looks anything but a straightforward encounter for either, with the match most likely headed for a long, gritty four or five-setter.

The Austrian finds himself at the forefront of breaking the “Big Three” hegemony. With Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer both absent, Thiem is looked at as the best chance of stopping a Big Three Grand Slam win once again.

After almost a week into this year’s US Open, though, Thiem is likely not thinking about going all the way but rather ending his very visible struggles on the court. Despite winning in straight sets against Sumit Nagal, the Austrian didn’t look his best. His court position was deeper compared to the Australian Open 2020. Maybe that’s because the Austrian feels more comfortable hanging back rather than hogging the baseline. But that has to change when he takes on the likes of Novak Djokovic or Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Every tennis player struggles for form, but for Thiem, this couldn’t have come at a worse time. A depleted draw due to COVID-19 is something the Austrian would be eager to take advantage of, but as of now, it’s match by match for Thiem.

Who better to understand Thiem’s struggles than Cilic himself? The hard-hitting Croat has struggled for form on numerous occasions. Despite that, he has managed to put up stellar runs. Cilic is 31 years old, and with the average retirement age going higher on the men’s tour, the Croat has it in him for yet another stellar run. One thing Cilic has never been short on is the fighting spirit in each and every game.

That’s exactly what Thiem needs at this moment. The will-power to fight it out even when he knows he’s not playing his best.

Are they both really contenders? Well, Thiem is definitely considered to be a top contender while Cilic is unlikely to fit into the top five contenders for most.

However, just imagine the confidence the Croat will carry if he can topple the No. 2 seed. Cilic has always flown under the radar even when he’s compiling Grand Slam final runs or winning the US Open six years ago. On his best days, Cilic can blow away anyone but those days are rare in the Croat’s life. On the upside, they almost always appear in the Grand Slams.

Cilic overcame a two-sets to love deficit in the first round and struggled with his second serve in both matches. Thiem was wayward at times and doesn’t bring a great deal of confidence to this match.

As said earlier, this looks unlikely to be a high-quality match but rather a slugfest to the very end. It’ll boil down to who wants it more and who can be strong enough to keep going for their shots because both of them are going to commit a lot of errors.

Cilic plays all of his matches with the utmost tenacity, the question then beckons, will Thiem manage to do the same.

Main Photo from Getty.