Looking to claim his first Major title, Dominic Thiem begins his French Open campaign against Ilya Ivashka of Belarus. Thiem maintained his position as one of the most serious threats to Nadal on clay, beating the august Spaniard again this year, in straight sets in Madrid. But he has arguably failed to progress meaningfully over the past few seasons, something a big performance in Paris this year would change. Can Thiem take the first step towards that or will he be upset early by Ivashka?
Thiem and Ivashka have met once before in their careers in a clash that came earlier this year in the Davis Cup tie between Austria and Belarus in February on the clay in Sankt Polten, Austria. Thiem, having already defeated Dzmitry Zhyrmont on his teams way to an unassailable 3-0 lead, added a further gloss to the rout by defeating Ivashka in straight sets 6-4 7-6 despite admirable resistance from the Belarussian. His compatriot Dennis Novak would complete a 5-0 win by defeating Yaraslav Shyla.
Last time out
Thiem reached a second consecutive final in Madrid earlier in the month, but disappointed in losing the title match in straight sets to Alexander Zverev. That disappointment may well have still been with him when he crashed out in his first match in Rome to Italian #1 Fabio Fognini. However, he rebounded well to win the title in Lyon, although he was extended the distance in the quarterfinals, semis and the final which may have taken something out of his legs ahead of Roland Garros.
Ivashka impressed in reaching the main draws in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, although he failed to repeat the feat in Istanbul and Madrid, before foregoing the Italian Open. However, he played some fine tennis in Paris to reach the main draw. Ivashka, who was seeded second in the qualifying draw, defeated Joao Domingues of Portugal, Viktor Galovic and Sergiy Stahkovsky to reach the first round at Roland Garros, losing just one set in the process.
How do they match up?
Thiem has become well-known for his muscular play from the back of the court, relying on a fearsome forehand and a powerful one-handed backhand to hit his opponents off-the-court. There is, in truth, little subtlety to Thiem’s tactical approach, but with power such as he possesses, there is little need for it. But, in his defence, he is not without grace on court. His backhand drop shot is a wonderfully disguised shot that the Austrian uses to especially good effect on a clay court.
Ivashka might also be justly characterised as an offensive baseliner, although his style is more akin to Jan-Lennard Struff’s than Thiem’s. The world #139 possesses a powerful forehand, although at times he is prone to rather slapping at the ball, instead of hitting through it. His backhand can be prone to breaking down in similar circumstances, and is less of a weapon than his forehand. It would be no surprise to see Thiem look to target it as much as he can in this match.
Ivashka impressed in qualifying, but not to the extent that he looks like beating Thiem in this match. The Austrian has earned the right to be considered one of the best clay courters in the game over the past two years, particularly at Roland Garros where he has now made two semifinals. Whilst this may well not be the year he lifts the Coupe de Mousquetaires, particularly after a taxing week in Lyon, he will pass the test presented by Ivashka in straight sets.