Dominic Thiem lost in the opening round at Roland Garros to Hugo Dellien. It’s the Austrian’s seventh loss of 2022 and as he took nine months off to heal up his injured wrist, the 2020 US Open champion hasn’t beaten anyone in over a year now (11 consecutive defeats). What are some of the issues he’s facing and how is he still winless this year?
What’s wrong with Dominic Thiem
Forehand has little firepower
This was an especially huge factor in his match against Dellien, as we’d usually expect the hard-hitting Thiem to be the dominant player. When given the opportunity, the Bolivian can maneuver the ball around the court extremely well. Dellien is a hardcore clay-court specialist and his point construction skills are among the best in the game, despite not really having a massive weapon. His forehand has acute placement, though, and he uses it to move the opponent around the court, also mixing in brilliant drop shots.
Playing against an opponent like that, Thiem needed to be more aggressive to not give Dellien freedom to play his style. The Bolivian can be overpowered quite easily, especially by someone who’s usually one of the biggest hitters in the game. But Thiem’s forehand speed and the consistency of it has been down since his comeback, so Dellien was able to play a lot of the match on his own terms. This is also related to confidence, as on occasion Thiem was able to produce huge blows like in the old days.
- Return is a mess
Dellien is definitely not among the best servers in the game. Not generate a break point against him on clay shouldn’t really happen at this level. In fact, the Bolivian’s only previous ATP Tour main draw match where he didn’t need to save any was a second set retirement from Ernests Gulbis in Bastad 2019. Thiem played for three full sets without coming close to breaking the Dellien serve.
It’s not like the Bolivian was sending him bombs either, but he compiled a very high 1st serve percentage (80%). Still, the average speed of these deliveries was just 163 km/h (101 mph). Certainly nothing the Austrian wouldn’t have been able to handle in his prime. But in almost every Dellien service game, Thiem was essentially gifting him points, especially off the forehand on the deuce side. Attempting to go big and deep on it didn’t work out, and neither did moving up the court to try to take it earlier. He just didn’t put any pressure on Dellien’s serve.
- Opponents are more motivated than usual
This one is a little arbitrary, but it feels like every opponent Thiem has played since his comeback has peaked for the match against him. After all, the Austrian is one of only nine active Grand Slam champions, so beating him is still an admirable feat. The rivals smell blood and come onto the court with plenty of extra motivation to beat a struggling former great.
Pedro Cachin used his win against Thiem to kickstart a phenomenal run in clay-court Challengers, which has now taken him to a first Grand Slam main draw appearance. John Millman rarely plays this well on clay; Benjamin Bonzi was pretty phenomenal in their match in Estoril. Andy Murray wasn’t even supposed to compete on the dirt this year, but showed up and looked great against Thiem in Madrid. Not often do you see Fabio Fognini as motivated and inspired as he was when he beat the Austrian in Rome. Marco Cecchinato had no wins in 11 events this year, before qualifying for Geneva and beating Thiem. Hugo Dellien has never been a very steady player, but he barely dropped his guard in the two-hour match at Roland Garros.
Wrist injuries are probably the worst ones to sustain as a tennis player. They can really mess up your production of the strokes and hopefully, Thiem’s forehand issues are only confidence-related. Some stunning comebacks in recent years have given us unrealistic expectations as to how early the Austrian would be in his optimal form. Seven matches in, he’s still not there at all and it doesn’t feel like he’s made much progress.
How does he combat it? Probably try to get more matches in, looks like playing once a week just isn’t going to cut it. Thiem has received a wild card to the main draw of a Challenger 125 event at Perugia, which takes place right after Roland Garros (he’s also the 4th alternate on the entry list). The Austrian needs to focus on at least a few tournaments at the lower circuit now, because he’ll have more chances to grab rhythm and confidence there, playing against slightly weaker opposition. It’s not going to be easy in Perugia, though–there are currently seven top 100 players on the entry list and the main draw cut-off stands at 166.
Main Photo from Getty.