It’s safe to say that 2021 so far hasn’t lived up to expectations for Dominic Thiem. A handful of disappointing losses this year has left people concerned over the World #4’s form heading into the French Open, especially considering he’s regarded as the most likely successor to Rafael Nadal’s throne in Paris. The US Open champion has expressed his desire at pushing on to win more Grand Slams, but this unfortunately hasn’t translated to his time on court. Troubled by injuries and mental struggles, it’s been a tricky year for the Austrian. After an underwhelming start to the clay season, can Thiem find a way to silence his doubters at Roland Garros?
What’s Going On With Dominic Thiem?
A Disappointing Australian Open
Thiem went into the first Grand Slam of the year as a serious title contender. He’d recently won the US Open and was outstanding in last year’s tournament, coming within a set of defeating Novak Djokovic in the final. However, it wasn’t to be this year. Despite some breath-taking tennis, he looked off the pace and not at his usual intensity. His titanic clash with Nick Kyrgios in the 3rd Round clearly took a lot out of him as he was cleaned up by Grigor Dimitrov in straight sets in the following round.
No doubt fatigue would’ve played a big factor here, but it was still a surprising result. Thiem’s fitness has never appeared to be much of an issue, and on plenty of occasions he’s gone onto win matches straight after a grueling five-setter. This suggests that either he was suffering from a slight injury, or he was struggling with mental fatigue. As the year has gone on, it’s become apparent that both of these factors have been a hindrance to the world #4.
Despite what some critics are claiming, it hasn’t been a shocking year for Dominic Thiem. After Melbourne, he played at the Qatar Open. His first match was against Aslan Karatsev, who had just reached the Australian Open semifinals. Karatsev had come from nowhere and the only one who could end his mesmeric streak at the Australian Open was the ever-dominant Novak Djokovic. Thiem had his work cut out for him, but overcame the hurdle in three sets. This was an excellent win for Thiem as Karatsev has already proven himself as a genuine threat against the top players.
It’s also important to note here that until the second round of Miami, Thiem and Djokovic were the only two players to have beaten Karatsev in 2021, and the Russian has also gone onto beat Djokovic in Serbia on clay. However, Thiem then went on to lose to Roberto Bautista Agut in the quarterfinals. He would usually expect to beat the Spaniard, but Bautista Agut is exceptional at this tournament so it wasn’t the biggest of surprises to see him lose this one.
Dubai was where things got worse for Thiem. He went out to Lloyd Harris in the first round with a crushing straight sets loss, failing to earn a single break point all match. Harris was outstanding all week and went on to make the final, but this was a worrying defeat for Thiem. Having not started the year particularly well, things weren’t looking good for the 27 year-old.
Taking a Break From Tennis
After his early exits, Thiem decided to take a much needed rest due to physical and mental issues. Injuries to his foot and knee had put a strain on his body, but the mental side had taken a bigger toll. One of the reasons for the mental struggles he discussed was down to winning the US Open. Finally securing a greatly desired Grand Slam had taken so much out of him that it left him rather dejected.
He’s also spoken out about the difficulties that players currently have on tour due to the pandemic. The freedom and social aspects of tour life are currently unavailable. Players aren’t allowed to go out for dinners, see their loved ones and interact with fans right now. Every tournament is very isolated and players are kept in bubbles, which can become highly frustrating and draining. As a result, many players have been finding it difficult to perform well consistently with so many restrictions in place.
After a deserved break, Dominic Thiem felt ready to return to action after nearly two months off resetting himself, and was back on court at the Mutua Madrid Open.
A Shaky Return To Clay
Thiem began his return to clay looking much rejuvenated. He came through his first round at the Monte Carlo Masters with ease before some tough encounters with Alex De Minaur and John Isner, ultimately losing to eventual champion Alex Zverev in the semifinals. Thiem had only lost to Zverev once on clay, but this time around he was unable to find any real rhythm or intensity against an in-form opponent, and was beaten comfortably in straight sets. As it was Thiem’s first tournament in almost two months, the result wasn’t hugely surprising.
However, Rome and and Lyon were deeply disappointing for him. Thiem fought extremely hard against an inspired Lorenzo Sonego in Rome, but lost in the final set tiebreak, despite serving for the match earlier in the set. This was especially disheartening for the Austrian as his resolve and courage in big moments has often been exceptional. Thiem struggled to deal with the Italian’s power all match, and couldn’t quite match his intensity. Credit must go to Sonego as he was sublime to watch all week, but it raised further questions over Thiem’s form.
His latest result was perhaps the most worrying of the year. The top seed crashed out of the first round in Lyon to Cameron Norrie in straight sets. Norrie has been superb recently, but this was unexpected. Thiem seemed so far off his best and again off the pace, with his intensity below what we usually expect from him. His game relies very heavily on his power, so when his energy is down, he really struggles to be effective. With less than a week to go until the French Open, he may be feeling slightly anxious.
Can Thiem Return To Form in Time?
Many fans are understandably worried after his loss to Norrie, but this has happened before. Prior to winning the US Open last year, Thiem was completely annihilated by Filip Krajinovic, 6-2 6-1. He was out of sorts, and played awful tennis. Despite this performance, he was a Grand Slam champion less than three weeks later. So, we know that he is easily capable of putting bad results behind him heading into a grand slam.
Based off the year he’s having, people are expecting the two-time finalist to struggle in Paris. However, he is one player that you can never count out, especially on his favorite surface. When he’s at his best on clay, Rafael Nadal is often the only player who can take him down. Thiem is one of the bravest and most ferocious players on tour, and he will be giving his absolute all at Roland Garros. If he can put his troublesome 2021 behind him and get back to his best, then he will be right up there as a title contender.
Nadal will go in as the third seed, so another potential final between these two is on the cards. Thiem holds a good record against the almighty Spaniard on clay and has now tasted Grand Slam success, so this will be an even tighter battle if they’re to face off again.
Of course, the beauty of this sport is that you never know what will happen when two players step on court. However, what we do know is that the Austrian will go in fighting and will give himself every chance of securing a second Grand Slam title. Regardless of his current form, Dominic Thiem will be a force to be reckoned with in Paris.
Main Photo from Getty.