Thiem Moves One Win Closer To Regaining Top-100 Form In Antwerp

Dominic Thiem (photo: Belga/European Open)

ANTWERP/WASHINGTON, October 20, 2022 (by Michael Dickens)

Dominic Thiem recovered from a mid-match dip to move into his fifth ATP Tour quarterfinal of the season – and second in two weeks on an indoor hard court – with a scrappy but satisfying victory at the European Open in Antwerp, Belgium on Thursday.

During a mid-afternoon matinee inside Lotto Arena, Thiem tamed No. 6 seed Francisco Cerundolo of Argentina, 6-1, 1-6, 7-5, in two hours and seven minutes. The triumph, which improved the Austrian’s tour-level win-loss record to 16-14, advanced him into Friday’s quarterfinals against World No. 11 and top seed Hubert Hurkacz of Poland, whom he is 0-3 lifetime against.

Throughout his second-round match against Cerundolo, Thiem handled the pressure moments well and constructed points with the meticulous eyes of a master craftsman. He looked like a player who was thoroughly enjoying himself on the tennis court, whether ahead or playing from behind, as was the case in the second set. No matter what Cerundolo threw at him, though, Thiem showed patience and his body language remained positive. He was a battler from start to finish.

After jumping out to a double-break lead at the outset, Thiem easily won the opening set by taking advantage of 13 unforced errors and pouncing on Cerundolo’s unproductive second serve. However, he wasn’t able to sustain the momentum in the next set and lost by the same 6-1 score that won him the opener. Then, at 3-all in the decider, Cerundolo broke Thiem for the third time, but was then broken back in the ensuing game after seven straight service holds – and the match was level at 4-all.

Next, Thiem won a big hold game for 5-4 and it was up to the Argentine to respond or go home disappointed. Cerundolo won at love to level the set at 5-5, then Thiem held to push ahead 6-5 after Cerundolo hit his 27th unforced error with an errant forehand that sailed long.

At the final changeover, Thiem looked relaxed. He rehydrated himself and took a bite of an energy bar, then slowly toweled himself off and returned to the Center Court battle looking and feeling renewed. Soon, Thiem beat Cerundolo on his first match point and raised his arms in victory. It was the second time in two weeks that Thiem had prevailed over Cerundolo after scoring a 6-4, 6-3 quarterfinal win in Gijón.

Vintage Thiem in Antwerp? No, but to his credit, he battled back and won four of the last five games of the match and showed his mettle when it mattered. Thiem overcame 20 unforced errors by striking 15 winners and converted four of his eight break points. He outpointed Cerundolo 80-73.

“It’s always difficult and interesting to play somebody two weeks in a row,” Thiem said in his on-court interview. “It’s a little bit strange, but I came out playing really good and won the first set. I know he’s a great player, so it was obvious in my mind that it wasn’t going to continue that way. I had a tense start to the second set and he took advantage. He came in to the net. The third set, when I was a break down, luckily I re-broke and it was a very intense and close match.”

Working toward goal of breaking back into the Top 100

Until suffering a wrist tear in June of last year, which sidelined him for nearly 12 months, Thiem was on a fast track to stardom. He was enjoying the rewards from a career arc that stretched from March 2020, when he achieved a career-best ranking of World No. 3 in March 2020 and later won the 2020 US Open singles title, his first major. By May of this year, with most of his rankings points having fallen off, Thiem fell out of the Top 100 and his ranking dipped to No. 346 in late June.

Fast forward to the present, the 132nd-ranked Thiem is working toward breaking back into the Top 100 by the end of the season. It’s an attainable goal for the 29-year-old from Wiener Neustadt, who began 2022 with seven straight losses in all competitions – including a first-round defeat at Roland-Garros, a major which he was twice (in 2018 and 2019) a finalist. It wasn’t until a mid-summer European clay swing, in which he reached the quarterfinals at Bastad and Kitzbühel and was a semifinalist Gstaad, that Thiem started to show signs of his former major-champion self.

Now, Thiem has begun to exude a sense of confidence and self-belief on the court that comes from not only being healthy but also by riffling his groundstrokes with heavy topspin and winning points consistently with a one-fisted backhand that remains a potent weapon. On Thursday, he dug himself out of trouble against Cerundolo and proved grace under pressure.

“It’s why I work hard every day, to be able to after two hours and in a close match, to play good shots, to play good tennis,” Thiem explained. “When it matters the most – at 6-5 in the third – you have to come up with good tennis to bring it over the finish line like I did. Today was my day.”

Since arriving in Antwerp, Thiem has put together two quality wins, over 268th-ranked Belgian wild card Michael Geerts on Wednesday and against World No. 28 Cerundolo, who broke into the Top 100 earlier this season and has produced winning results consistently both on clay and hard courts.

“Every win is very important to me,” Thiem said following his first-round win over Geerts, in his first match since his semifinal run at Gijón, Spain last week. “Getting back to a very good level – last week [I made the] semifinals – is very important for me to pick it up, to get into the rhythm of tennis, again.”

By rhythm, Thiem was referring to things like traveling from tournament to tournament, getting used to different conditions, different tennis balls, different opponents.

“I was very happy to come here,” Thiem said. “It’s the first time I’m playing a tournament in Belgium – I’ve never played this tournament, never played any junior tournaments. So, thank you for the great welcome. It’s a pleasure to play here.”

Korda making most of his first visit to Antwerp

Sebastian Korda of the United States saved four set points during a dramatic second-set tie-break and prevailed on his third match point to beat No. 4 seed Karen Khachanov of Russia, 7-5, 7-6 (9), in an hour and 58 minutes. The 36th-ranked Korda struck 10 aces and 32 winners and converted all three of break points against the No. 18 Khachanov. He outpointed his opponent 84-77 for his second career win in three tries against the Russian.

“I’m very happy. It was very close and it could have gone either way,” Korda said in his on-court interview. “I’m very happy to play really well in the difficult moments.”

The second-round victory was Korda’s 10th of the season indoors. Coming off a semifinal run in Gijón, Spain last week, it’s given the 22-year-old American confidence this week in Antwerp, where he’s playing in the European Open for the first time.

“I’m very happy to be indoors, it’s one of my favorite times of the year,” Korda said. “I’m really enjoying myself here, it’s my first time in Belgium, actually.”

And what has Korda learned from the experience? “The chocolate and French fries are pretty good!” he quipped.

Next, Korda will face World No. 39 and eighth 8 seed Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan in Friday’s quarterfinal round.

Around the European Open

• Belgium’s David Goffin rolled back the years in his home country event with a specular 7-6 (3), 6-2 victory over World No. 19 and No. 3 seed Diego Schwartzman of Argentina in an hour and 52 minutes of inspiring tennis. It was his fifth career win over the Argentine.

The 58th-ranked Belgian beat the three-time Antwerp finalist with controlled aggressive play, hitting 34 winners and breaking Schwartzman’s serve three times.  The 31-year-old Goffin was effective in winning points on his second serve and outpointed Schwartzman 76-58.

“The first round I played three hours. Tonight, it was much better. I played less than three hours. I’m happy I saved the legs a little bit for the next round,” Goffin said in his on-court interview. His first-round win over fellow Belgian Gilles Arnaud Bailly on Tuesday lasted three hours and 12 minutes. “Against Diego, it can easily go three hours. There were a lot of rallies against him. I tried to make it shorter, to be more aggressive than him. It was great. I tried to go more down the lines, come to the net. That was the key and I’m very pleased with my performance tonight. … I knew what I had to do.”

Later, in his post-match press conference, Goffin added (translated from French): “I showed a great level, Im very happy to have been able to get out of such a match after several difficult weeks. It’s good for confidence and I hope to continue like this this week.”

In Friday’s quarterfinal round, Goffin will face 2016 European Open champion Richard Gasquet of France, who is currently ranked 82nd.

• World No. 10 and second seed Felix Auger-Aliassime earned his ATP Tour-leading 16th indoor win of the season with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over 148th-ranked lucky loser Manuel Guinard of France in a spirited performance that lasted 79 minutes.

The Canadian No. 1 from Montreal will take a five-match winning streak into his Friday evening quarterfinal match against No. 5 seed Daniel Evans of Great Britain, ranked 26th. Auger-Aliassime is coming off a title-winning week in Florence, Italy, where he captured his second career tour-level crown at the UniCredit Firenze Open. Both of Auger-Aliassime’s singles titles have been on indoor hard courts.

Against Guinard, who was a quarterfinalist earlier this season at Lyon, Auger-Aliassime struck eight aces and hit 13 overall winners in the opening set and built upon it in the second. He finished with 11 aces, 23 winners and outpointed the 26-year-old Frenchman from Saint-Malo 68-46. It was Auger-Aliassime’s 45th victory of 2022.

“I felt good from the start, I was playing some good tennis, moving well. I am really happy with the way I have started off this tournament,” Auger-Aliassime said during his on-court interview. “I’m ready to play my best at every match. I have to respect every opponent. I used to be at [Manuel’s] ranking, too. Everybody plays well. … It’s never easy to play anyone on the circuit. You always have to be ready to show up and play your best.”

• Doubles No. 2 seeds Rohan Bopanna of India and Matwe Middelkoop of the Netherlands advanced to Friday’s semifinal round with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Great Britain’s Daniel Evans and Jonny O’Mara. Their next opponents will be the Dutch team of David Pel and Sander Arends, who eliminated No. 3 seeds Kevin Krawietz and Andrea Mies, both of Germany, 4-6, 6-3, 10-4.

Meanwhile, No. 4 seeds Nicolas Mahut and Edouard Roger-Vasselin, both of France, went the distance and rallied to beat Hugo Nys of Monaco and Jan Zielinski of Poland, 2-6, 6-1, 10-6. They will play Dutch duo Botic van de Zandschulp and Tallon Griekspoor, who defeated Xavier Malisse of Belgium and Diego Schwartzman of Argentina, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (7),  in the other semifinal on Saturday.

Thursday’s European Open results

Friday’s European Open order of play

By the numbers

Sebastian Korda owns a 10-3 indoor record this season, highlighted by his run to last week’s Gijón Open final.

“Quotable …”

“To be honest, 100 percent dark chocolate is my absolute favorite!”

Dominic Thiem of Austria, after visiting Chocolate Nation this week in Antwerp.


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