There was a time, not too long ago at all, when Dominic Thiem was better suited than anyone to become the next new champion on these grounds. For four consecutive years, between 2016 and 2019, Thiem walked deep in the French Open draw and only allowed himself to be knocked out by the greats.
He reached two semi-finals and then two finals. He overthrew Novak Djokovic twice, including a huge 2019 semi-final played partly in an apocalyptic wind over two days. He was brilliant, at one point the second-best clay-courter in the world, and for three consecutive years only the greatest of all time on this surface could stop him.
Those recent memories of Thiem at his physical and dynamic best on clay at Roland Garros, undoubtedly clearing the ball from both wings, make his current state even harder to see. Barely two hours into the tournament on Sunday afternoon, Thiem suffered a disappointing and at times difficult to watch first-round loss to Hugo Dellien of Bolivia, who easily beat him 6-3, 6-2, 6- 4.
Since returning from a nine-month injury layoff due to a right wrist injury and various complications, Thiem has now lost all of his seven matches, winning just two sets between them. His total losing streak, dating back to the period just before his injury when he was already trying to recover from the mental exhaustion he suffered after his triumph at the 2020 US Open, stands at 11 consecutive defeats. .
The clearest problem for Thiem is his forehand, the focal point of his game and the shot naturally most affected by the right wrist injury. Sometimes he broke forehands long at the start of the point and other times he set up short balls to miss the easiest shot of the rally.
Its struggles were more pronounced only on the important points; he lost serve in the second set after hesitating on a short ball, attempting a bunt instead of smashing it and somehow dropping that bunt high in the air and over the baseline. Later in that set, a second-serve forehand return hit the back fence. As his confidence crumbled, the rest of his game followed.
Despite his frustration, Thiem was admirably candid about his predicament and he was under no illusions about the distance that separated him from his goals. Thiem explained that he had no additional physical problems or serious mental blocks due to his wrist injury, and that he generally performed better in training than he was able to show in conditions. tense matches.
“I’m obviously a little tighter, more nervous and obviously the whole body is getting tighter, getting more nervous and right now it’s toxic to my forehand because I’m still missing the fine feel there, I miss it a lot,” he said. “If that’s the case, lots and lots of mistakes happen and it was still the same today.”
As he obediently fell to Dellien, the 87th-ranked Bolivian courter put an arm around Thiem and gave him a few words of support at the net. Thiem says he will consider going down a level to compete in challenger events and has pledged to keep working, hoping he will find his way back.
“The key is just to keep being patient, to work on what isn’t working and then it will come back, but it will take time,” he said. “I can’t say now: ‘I’m disappointed, I’m going to work hard for a week and in the next tournament I’ll be playing great.’ I have to be patient and I think it’s going to be a few more months before I can really say, ‘Okay, now I’m ready to beat these top guys again.’
As a former runner-up fell, one of the most touted players in the women’s roster also fell as sixth-seeded Ons Jabeur was toppled 3-6, 7-6(4), 7 -5 by Magda Linette from Poland.
Jabeur had arrived in Paris with the clay season of her dreams, winning her first WTA 1000 title of her career in Madrid and reaching the finals in Rome and Charleston, and she was the second fittest player in the draw behind Iga Swiatek. Instead, she ran out of steam in the biggest tournament of them all and will leave Paris as the tournament’s first big surprise.
“I’m a pretty positive person, to be honest with you I’m not going to let a game like this ruin it,” Jabeur said. “But obviously, I expected better. Maybe it’s a good thing for me to reflect on this game and we say maybe something goes wrong because something good happens in the future, I don’t know, I hope the grass season, I hope Wimbledon.