Dominic Thiem will do well to remember his 50th match win at a Grand Slam championship on Thursday, when he showcased battling qualities for a place in the Roland Garros third round.
Last year’s runner-up recovered from 2-5 down in the fourth set against the charismatic Kazakhstani Alexander Bublik for a 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-3, 7-5 victory over two hours and 30 minutes on Court Philippe-Chatrier, the main show court.
“Today was very difficult,” said Thiem. “It was a tough match-up for me because there were almost no rallies… He gave me no rhythm at all. He did it very well, actually… I was playing really bad once I got into the rally, which made it even more difficult. Somehow the fire never got there. It was four close sets, only two hours 30, almost a fifth.”
Thiem is now 20-5 at the clay-court Grand Slam championship, where he finished runner-up to 11-time titlist Rafael Nadal in the 2018 final — the first Austrian player to compete in a major final since Thomas Muster lifted the 1995 trophy.
In an encounter of mixed fortunes, fourth seed Thiem was on a receiving end of an underarm serve from Bublik at 1-4, 30/30 in the first set and then came back from 1-4 down in the second set, but missed a set point at 6/5 in the tie-break.
When asked about the underarm serve, Thiem said, “To be honest, it’s a good choice against players who are that far behind the baseline. There is nothing bad about it. And I was prepared for that, so that was no problem. For me it was tough because I had difficulties to find a good return position. And the two breaks I made, I think he got a little bit tight at the end of second set and the end of fourth set.”
Having regained the momentum, Thiem became a spectator as the inventive Bublik took a 5-2 lead in the fourth set. But the Austrian began to dig his way out of danger from 15/40 (two sets points for Bublik) in the eighth game. From that point, Thiem won 21 of the next 27 points to fight another day.
The 25-year-old won 83 per cent of his first-service points and committed just 15 unforced errors for a third-round test against Uruguay’s Pablo Cuevas, who was leading Kyle Edmund 7-6(3), 6-3, 2-1 when the No. 28 seed from Great Britain retired due to a left knee injury.
World No. 91 Bublik, who has predominantly competed on the ATP Challenger Tour, was making his debut at Roland Garros this week. He is 3-2 in tour-level matches in 2019.
Later in the day, Croatian No. 13 seed Borna Coric knocked out South African Lloyd Harris 6-2, 6-3, 7-6(2) in two hours and five minutes. Coric first held match points at 5-4 in the third set, with Harris serving at 15/40.
He’ll now challenge Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff, who advanced to the third round of a Grand Slam championship for the third time (also 2018 Wimbledon and US Open) following a 7-6(2), 7-6(3), 6-7(4), 6-2 victory over Radu Albot of Moldova in three hours and 14 minutes. Struff hits 15 aces among 61 winners and lost just 14 of his first-service points (65/79).