World #9 Dominic Thiem heads into the US Open still searching for a maiden Grand Slam victory in a year which saw him reach his first Grand Slam final at the French Open. He had a fairly easy first round win at this event, but will face sterner opposition in the second round against American Steve Johnson. Johnson, the world #31, was unlucky to miss out on a seeding, and will head into this match up with some belief. But who will come out on top?
These two have met on three occasions in the past, with Thiem winning twice - all of them, however, have been tight. The first two matches were on clay, Thiem’s favoured surface, the first in Nice in 2014 where he won in three tight sets, and the second at Roland Garros last year where he won in straight sets. Their most recent battle came last October in Tokyo on a hard court where Johnson fought back from a set down to win in three.
Path to the second round
Thiem's first round opponent was world #81 Mirza Basic from Bosnia, who won the title in Sofia in February. But as Basic showed in Toronto against Djokovic, he lacks the quality to stay with the best of them and as expected Thiem won with relative ease. But after a first round defeat at Wimbledon, and a number of other early losses, the win no doubt came as a relief to Thiem. He got through the match in exactly an hour and a half, 6-3 6-1 6-4.
Johnson came up against the experienced world #76 Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan, a runner up in Kitzbuhel last month and last year at the Australian Open, a conqueror of Djokovic. But Johnson also won in straight sets though not with the same ease as Thiem. After taking the first set 6-3, he only just escaped in a second set tiebreaker, before ultimately running out at as a 6-3 7-6 6-3 win in a little over two hours.
How do they match up?
Thiem has a well-rounded style, and is powerful and accurate from both wings. He has a one-handed backhand, which is one of the best on the tour. The heavy topspin which he utilises, particularly on his forehand side, make him most dangerous on a clay court, but with the courts at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center bouncing unusually high this year, that may serve him, and a certain Rafael Nadal, well.
He will no doubt spend much of the match targeting the backhand of Johnson, which is a major weakness in the American's game. Johnson is a more than competent server and has a good forehand, but his backhand is an obvious flaw. He struggles to come over the ball, slicing it the vast majority of the time, which leaves him vulnerable, especially if opponents come to the net. A player of Thiem's quality should recognise that and take full advantage.
Johnson isn’t an easy second round match up for a player as highly seeded as Thiem, but the Austrian should be able to make his way through to the third round regardless. Johnson is a solid player, but as is often the case his backhand will be targeted heavily by Thiem, who looked sharp in dismantling Basic. Johnson has the quality to make it competitive, but expect Thiem to get over the line in straight sets.