The case for Dominic Thiem to be your next French Open champion

The all-action Austrian has been on the close to a major breakthrough for a while now and the stars could be aligning in Paris of him…

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The last time an Austrian won a major, Radiohead had just released The Bends, Batman Forever was the summer blockbuster and Aston Villa were a good Premier League side (he writes sobbing).

In the summer of 1995, clay court maestro Thomas Muster captured the sole grand slam title of his career at Roland Garros with a 7-5 6-2 6-4 triumph over Michael Chang.

This year, Dominic Thiem is attempting to end that drought and for once, he can make it to the final without meeting one of those top four spoilsports.

Like Muster, Thiem is an expert on the red dirt.

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With his combination of raw power, incredible stamina and determination to enter every clay tournament possible, the 24-year-old has racked up wins on the surface over the past three years.

The world no.8 has so far added 10 ATP titles to his trophy cabinet, with eight of those coming on clay.

While it has been a monumental challenge for the younger players to defeat this generation’s top players, Thiem has found a way on his favoured surface. Since 2014, the Austrian has defeated Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka on the red stuff.

But what about Rafa I hear you yell at the screen? If Thiem is a serious operator on the dirt, how has he fared against the King of Clay?

Pretty well actually.

Thiem is the only player to have beaten Nadal on clay in each of the past three seasons. He defeated the 16-time major winner in Buenos Aires in 2016, Rome in 2017 and Madrid this summer.

Their overall head-to-head record stands at 6-3 to the Spaniard, with all of the encounters on clay. However, while the Austrian has notched some impressive wins in this matchup, the Majorcan has claimed the most important bouts.

Nadal has prevailed in their final clashes in Barcelona (2017) and Madrid (2017) and both meetings at Roland Garros (2014, 2017).

Having overcome five players again in Paris, including the world no.3 Sascha Zverev, Thiem must be relieved to see Marco Cecchinato block his path to a first Grand Slam final rather than Nadal (or Djokovic).

If he wants to have a crack at a maiden major title and end Austria’s 23 years of hurt, surely he can manage his way past the world no.72?

Well, it won’t be straightforward.

For a man who had never picked up a victory at a Slam before last week, Cecchinato has now made a habit of it. Thiem should be very wary of someone who outlasted top 10 players Pablo Carreno Busta and David Goffin before ruining Novak Djokovic’s Tuesday evening.

Unfortunately, we can’t glean much from their head-to-head record as they played one match so long ago that the result is pretty meaningless. Will the Austrian stroll onto Court Philippe Chatrier harbouring demons from an ITF final loss five years ago in Modena. I’m going to say no.

Time on court may prove the crucial factor.

While Cecchinato has basked in his status as an unknown quantity at this year’s Roland Garros, he has spent a lot of time scurrying around the baseline.

The Italian went the distance with Marius Copil in the first round, finally taking the match 10-8 in the final set after 3 hours and 41 minutes. He was brought to four sets against Carreno Busta, Goffin and Djokovic.

All told, Cecchinato has taken 13 hours and 55 minutes to reach the last four, over two-and-a-half hours longer than Thiem.

Due to Zverev’s leg injury, Thiem needed less than two hours to dispatch the German in their quarter-final. Cecchinato expended considerably more, both physically and emotionally, when he outlasted Djokovic.

I have a feeling that the Austrian, knowing that he has a remarkable opportunity to get to a major final, will pitch a tent behind the baseline of Chatrier and settle in for a very long afternoon if required to win at 1/8.

Will Cecchinato ultimately find a way through the tireless and determined Thiem, and prolong this fairytale run at 5/1?

I’m not so sure.

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* All odds correct at time of posting.