Dominic Thiem says he was “over the limit” physically during a five-hour defeat by Diego Schwartzman in the French Open quarter-finals.
Dominic Thiem says he was “over the limit” physically during a five-hour defeat by Diego Schwartzman in the French Open quarter-finals.
Dominic Thiem admitted after his five-set fourth-round victory at Roland Garros against Hugo Gaston that he was, “not running on a full tank anymore”. For more than five hours over five sets on Wednesday he battled hard against Diego Schwartzman, but the recent US Open champion simply didn’t have anything left to give.
“To be honest, I was over the limit today,” Thiem said. “Maybe I would have recovered [for the semi-finals]. Even though I’m physically and mentally on the edge, you never know in a Slam, especially [with] tomorrow and Thursday off, two full days to recover. You never know what would happen. But at the end I gave everything I had out there.
“It was an amazing match. I think the first in my career over five hours. Diego fully deserves it.”
The World No. 3 arrived in Paris without having played since winning his maiden Grand Slam title in New York. But after a few matches on the terre battue he knew he did not have a full tank.
“I just tried to do everything I could on the days off to recover. [I] also tried something new, which I haven’t done before,” Thiem said. “Before the Round of 16, I did nothing the whole day. [I] just tried to be on 100 per cent again.”
It didn’t help that Thiem had to play five sets against Gaston after winning the first two sets. Their clash only lasted three hours and 32 minutes, but Thiem had to do a lot of sprinting to retrieve drop shots off the lefty’s racquet. Still, he played well enough to push recent Internazionali BNL d’Italia finalist Schwartzman to the brink.
“I was doing it quite well, I have the feeling. Also today I still could play at quite a high level for more than five hours,” Thiem said. “But he was keeping it up until the end. He was probably a little bit fresher than me in the fifth set, so that’s why he won.”
At the net Thiem told Schwartzman, his close friend, that he deserved the triumph. Thiem fell short of reaching a fifth consecutive Roland Garros semi-final, but while he is disappointed, the Austrian knows he gave it his best shot.
“I’m not sad with my performance here [at] Roland Garros. It was a pretty short time with the long trip home, jet lag and everything. Then, of course [this came after I won my] first Slam, which is a special thing,” Thiem said. “[I] came here, played in pretty brutal conditions, I would say. I cannot say it was a bad tournament, I’m pretty happy about it.”
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Diego Schwartzman recorded one of the biggest wins of his career on Tuesday in an energy-sapping five-hour, eight-minute victory for a place in the Roland Garros semi-finals.
Schwartzman dug deep to win one of the matches of the year, 7-6(1), 5-7, 6-7(6), 7-6(5), 6-2, over third seed Dominic Thiem, the 2018 and 2019 finalist, on Court Philippe-Chatrier in south-west Paris.
Schwartzman, appearing in his fourth major championship quarter-final, recovered from 2-4 down in the first set and 1-3 down in the second set, and had the match on his racquet, but crucially missed a forehand on top of the net with his Austrian opponent serving at 4-5, 15/30. Thiem dug deep to save one set point at 4-5 in the third set and three set points at 4-5 in the fourth set, which Schwartzman found a way to win to force a decider.
Schwartzman physically worked his way to his 20th victory of the year (20-9 record), wearing down Thiem, who had chased down drop shots against French wild card Hugo Gaston in a five-hour fourth-round marathon.
The 28-year-old Schwartzman, runner-up at the recent Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome (d. Djokovic), will now play Spanish second seed and 12-time champion Rafael Nadal or Jannik Sinner of Italy.
Thiem saved the first break point of the match, in the opening game, and went on to open up a 4-2 advantage, before Schwartzman broke back and was supreme in the tie-break, winning the first five points.
Thiem immediately regrouped to take a 3-1 lead in the second set, but hit his fifth double fault to hand Schwartzman the sixth game. At 4-4, Schwartzman dealt Thiem a psychological blow, saving seven break points in a 15-minute hold.
But a forehand miss from Schwartzman on top of the net, with Thiem serving at 4-5, 15/30, proved to be pivotal. It shook up the Austrian, who broke for a 6-5 advantage for a way back into the pair’s ninth ATP Head2Head meeting. The titanic 68-minute second set ended with Schwartzman, often seen scurrying behind the baseline, striking a backhand into the net.
Thiem appeared set to break clear when he clinched the first game of the third set, which incredibly featured eight breaks of serve. Schwartzman opened up 3-1 and 5-3 leads, but forehand errors, on both occasions, cost the Argentine. Thiem, struggling on serve throughout, gifted Schwartzman a set point at 4-5, 30/40, but the Argentine over-hit a backhand and came under pressure in the next game, when he was broken after striking a backhand long.
Thiem, serving for the set, was then broken to 15, but won five straight points from 0/1 in the tie-break. Schwartzman saved two set points from 4/6, but Thiem made it third-time lucky at 7/6 with a smash winner.
Thiem again looked primed for his 21st victory in 26 matches this season, when he took a 2-0 lead in the fourth set. But Schwartzman kept fighting and won four straight games. Just as Thiem’s energy levels looked to dipping with Schwartzman at 5-4, 40/0, the Austrian saved three set points — the final one with an outstanding running forehand winner down the line.
Thiem then levelled the score at 5-5 when Schwartzman hit a forehand into the net. Again, the Argentine almost conjured up a way back, but it was the sheer power of Thiem that saved a break point at 30/40 in the next game. Thiem broke clear early in the tie-break, but Schwartzman held firm to take the clash to a decider once Thiem hit a backhand wide.
Germans Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies continued their Roland Garros title defence on Tuesday by earning a place in the semi-finals.
The eighth seeds secured one break early in each set to beat British No. 13 seeds Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski 6-4, 6-4 in one hour and 39 minutes on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.
Krawietz and Mies, who converted two of their nine break point opportunities, now face ninth-seeded US Open finalists Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic or Americans Nicholas Monroe and Tommy Paul.
Not even one day had passed since Dominic Thiem’s victory in the US Open final, and his mind and aspirations were already focused on Roland Garros. His coach, Nicolas Massu, can attest to that; “You always have to try and achieve more.”
And that intention has borne fruit in Paris. The Austrian has made it to his fifth successive quarter-final at the clay-court major, and on Tuesday the World No. 3 will be bidding for more when he takes on his good friend Diego Schwartzman. In the midst of their preparations for the tie, the Chilean opened up to ATPTour.com.
Another tournament, another bubble… has the isolation during competition now become normality?
At the end of the day, it’s a question of adapting. Here in Paris, just like in New York, we try to spend the time as well as possible. In my case, I don’t think in terms of how many days are left or how many I’ve been there for. I simply concentrate on my work. The excitement of being at a Grand Slam and wanting to do big things is enough. You come here to work, to win, to make history.
Are you happy with Thiem’s game after such a short period of preparation for Roland Garros?
We knew that his tennis was ready. We just had to get him physically and mentally recovered in order to continue competing energetically. Dominic came here without playing any tournaments on clay. Normally, you come to this tournament having played on the surface since Monte Carlo, with eight weeks of preparation. This time Dominic trained for just six or seven days, three or four of them in Vienna and the rest here. So it was important to start well in the early rounds, despite having a very tough draw. But I think he’s done a very good job.
And, apart from the change in surface, you had to adapt to the conditions at this very atypical French Open…
This is a different year, with different weather and balls. After the US Open, we started training in Vienna with these balls, but it was hot, and when he got here everything was different. But in the end, Dominic adapts very quickly. Nowadays, he can play in any condition and with any ball. What we did after the US Open was to listen to his body, understand what happened there. If we managed that well, we knew that he could play well.
You have both said that the title in New York was a weight off his shoulders and he would play better without so much pressure. Have you seen that in Paris?
Yes. It gave him significant confidence. It’s always good to win your first Grand Slam, to make history. He’d had that dream since he was little, and he did it. It’s something that gives you great reinforcement. But you always want more, it’s very difficult to be satisfied or to think about what you’ve already done. It happened to me as a player too. The US Open title gives Dominic peace of mind, great joy. But the tennis has to continue. And that’s why he’s here fighting, battling because he wants to keep doing big things.
You say it happened to you as a player. Is it happening to you now as a coach?
The thing is that there’s not much time to be able to sit down and analyse the triumphs because you have to prepare for another tournament. In this case Roland Garros, which is so important to Dominic. After New York, I had a few free days in Milan, but then I was in Vienna training with Dominic, who had started to prepare for the tournament two days before with his father.
Was there no time to celebrate?
You enjoy it as much as you can, and obviously, as a coach, winning a Grand Slam is incredible, an amazing feeling. But I think that while you’re doing this, you always want more, as a player and as a coach. And if you’ve won a Grand Slam, you want to continue, you want to keep working. If Dominic has already done it, it’s because he can do it again.
Who are the other favourites?
I’m always confident he will win, regardless of who’s on the other side of the net. That should be the belief, although that doesn’t mean you’re going to win. You have to demonstrate that conviction. As for the other favourites… I would have to name the same players that have reached these rounds in the past. We already know who they are [Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic]. Obviously Dom has a chance at every tournament he plays in because he’s number three in the world, but the ranking doesn’t make you win matches. If you don’t fight, you lose.
Jannik Sinner hails from San Candido, a village of just more than 3,000 near the Austrian border in northern Italy. Football is the most popular sport in the country, but not there.
“In our parts, the first sport is of course skiing,” Sinner said.
In 2008, he won a skiing championship for his age group. In 2012, he was second in Italy. All signs pointed towards Sinner becoming a skiing star.
Tennis was never a priority for most of his life. Sinner’s father gave him his first racquet when he was three. At seven, he did not touch a racquet for a year because he preferred football alongside skiing. After that, while still focussing on skiing, he played tennis twice a week until he was 13.
“When I went on court just two times in a week, I really enjoyed it. I just tried to enjoy and it was fun. It was just fun,” Sinner said last year. “But now it’s a little bit more than fun. Now it’s fun, but you want to go a little bit further and I think that makes this very important.”
On Tuesday, only six years later, Sinner will play 12-time champion Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals of Roland Garros. The Italian is the first tournament debutant to reach the last eight since Nadal in 2005.
“He’s young, he’s improving every single week. So he’s playing better and better and better. It will be a big challenge,” Nadal said. “It will be the first time playing against him on the Tour. I practised with him a couple of times, he has an amazing potential. He moves his hands very quick and he’s able to produce amazing shots.”
Last Roland Garros, Sinner wasn’t even ranked highly enough to gain entry into qualifying. So how has this 19-year-old, who won last year’s Next Gen ATP Finals, become the talk of the tennis world?
According to his peers, Sinner is a generational talent. Italian veterans have known Sinner since before he prioritised tennis. Andreas Seppi was first introduced to him when Sinner was 12.
“For sure he’s a special kid because he’s the first guy in a Roland Garros quarter-final at that age since Djokovic and the first player in a Roland Garros quarter-final in his first appearance since Nadal, so you can put him with these guys already at his age,” Seppi said. “I think sometimes you just have some natural talent and he is one of them. He’s always had this easy power and I think you’re just born with that.”
Sinner is a skinny 6’2” and he will continue filling out his body with age. Some of the sport’s most powerful players — Stan Wawrinka and Karen Khachanov come to mind — look the part of a big bruiser. When they go after their shots, it’s clear they are trying to crush it. That’s not the case with Sinner. Even during practice, when he’s rallying with a friend, the ball flies off his racquet.
“Sometimes it’s like he’s playing another sport,” said 38-year-old Italian Paolo Lorenzi. “The ball is going so fast from his racquet. He’s still thin, he’s not so big. But the ball is going really, really fast.
“I practised a few times with Novak and the ball goes so easy, [Jannik is] a little bit like him. Novak still has much more control, but Jannik is going really fast. It’s pretty similar. Of course Novak at the beginning also made a little bit more mistakes, wasn’t as solid like he is now. So hopefully Sinner will do something like him.”
Lorenzi recalls playing doubles with Sinner, who was then 18, at last year’s European Open in Antwerp. In the first round, they played former Top 10 stars Oliver Marach and Jurgen Melzer. Lorenzi is the first to admit he is not a doubles stalwart, especially on an indoor hard court. The Italians triumphed 6-3, 6-1.
“When he was pushing hard, the doubles players didn’t play the volleys. They just moved out [of the way],” Lorenzi said. “The doubles players are really good at the net, they’re really focussed. But the ball from him is too fast. When I practise with him and then with other players, I have the feeling the ball is moving so slowly. I think it’s one of Jannik’s big qualities.”
Every ATP Tour star who is asked about Sinner praises his game. On Monday, reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas said: “For sure, we can see a great future, see him do good things on the circuit. I would not be surprised if he has good wins again the top five and the top three. Why not? He has a very big game, [he is] a very talented player.”
But perhaps what will prove vital as he continues his climb is something not visible to the eye. Sinner is as cool as the snowy mountains he hails from.
At the same Antwerp event, Sinner reached his first ATP Tour semi-final, defeating Gael Monfils along the way.
“Fifteen, 20 minutes before the semi-final match we were in the locker room joking, smiling, laughing,” Lorenzi recalled. “It’s not easy for a guy who was 18 years old. It was such a big match for him, semi-finals of an ATP, but for him it was like an ordinary first round.”
Even when Sinner upset recent US Open finalist Alexander Zverev in four sets on Sunday to reach his first Grand Slam quarter-final, the Italian barely reacted. Most teens in his position would jump up and down or let out a roar. Sinner gave a muted fist pump. It’s like this is just another step on his journey to greatness.
“It’s great to reach the quarter-finals here,” Sinner said. “I am quite calm, so even if inside I’m very happy, I don’t show that so much. But I’m happy.”
Competing in a Grand Slam would intimidate many. Stepping on Court Philippe-Chatrier to play Nadal in a quarter-final would be nerve-wracking. But win or lose, Sinner will treat Tuesday’s clash as another step in his journey.
“Obviously I’m playing against Rafa here in Roland Garros. It’s not the easiest thing, for sure. The record he has here, I think nobody can beat that. He is super confident here,” Sinner said. “[The goal is] always to go on court with the right attitude, trying to play your best tennis, which I have to do if I want to play on the same level as he plays.”
If Sinner stuns Nadal and hands the Spaniard just his third loss on the Parisian clay, it will be reminiscent of 19-year-old Roger Federer upsetting four-time defending champion Pete Sampras at 2001 Wimbledon. What’s amazing is that when Nadal lifted his first Coupe des Mousquetaires, Sinner was three. When the legendary lefty claimed his ninth Roland Garros title in 2014, the Italian was still focussed on skiing.
“He was skiing until six years ago professionally, so I think he could also be a good skier already at this time,” Seppi said. “Luckily for everybody, he chose tennis.”
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