Why Lyon Was Pivotal In Thiem's Biggest Clay Breakthrough
Dominic Thiem arrived in France for the 2018 Open Parc Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Lyon having lost back-to-back matches on clay for the first time since 2016. Little did he know the ATP 250 tournament would serve as a launching pad to his biggest breakthrough on the surface.
After cruising through his opening match against Roberto Carballes Baena in 71 minutes, Thiem appeared poised to turn his fortunes around. But the Austrian was made to work hard.
On Thursday evening, Thiem’s quarter-final against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez was suspended at one set apiece due to darkness. There were no guarantees for the top seed; not only did he need to find a way to battle past the Spaniard, but he’d have to quickly recover for a semi-final later Friday.
Luckily for Thiem, he navigated through his third set against Garcia-Lopez without many complications, finishing off a 6-7(4), 7-6(0), 6-4 victory to set a clash in the last four against Dusan Lajovic. Although that match only lasted one hour and 58 minutes, Thiem was again under pressure, needing three sets to win. He triumphed 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.
“I was just staying focussed,” Thiem said of his mindset after losing the second set. “I had the big goal in front of me: to reach the final. That was the key. That’s why I stayed very calm.”
In about 24 hours, Thiem played four hours and 55 minutes of tennis, and he still had to face home favourite Gilles Simon, the former World No. 6, in the final. But again, it was his mindset that proved key. He wasn’t thinking about the past, but remaining in the present.
“It’s my dream to win the title here,” Thiem said after beating Lajovic. “I’m one step away.”
All of the tennis appeared to have taken its toll on Thiem when Simon cruised to a set-and-a-break lead in Saturday's championship match. The Austrian faced two break points to fall behind even further, but Thiem dug into the clay and battled. Once he turned the tide, the big-swinging baseliner had all the momentum.
After two hours and 25 minutes, Thiem captured his 10th ATP Tour trophy, defeating the Frenchman 3-6, 7-6(2), 6-1.
"I'm super happy. I fought really, really hard for this title," Thiem said. "I'm really happy that I won the title. It's always something very special. It's my tenth title, which is a great number."
That wasn’t the only milestone for Thiem, as the Austrian also claimed his 200th tour-level match win by defeating Simon. The triumph marked Thiem's eighth tour-level clay-court title, and it came just weeks after ending Rafael Nadal's 50-set clay-court winning streak — a record on a single surface — in Rome.
"I really enjoyed being here," Thiem said. "France has a very special place in my heart. I've always played great tennis here and I hope I will always play great tennis here... it was a great atmosphere even though I played against a home guy. Still, it was really nice, and I really enjoyed it."
On paper, it might seem like a lot of tennis to play in the days leading into a Grand Slam, but Thiem did not see it that way.
“I feel physically completely fine,” Thiem said upon his arrival in Paris. “The victory of the tournament helped for sure. I'm feeling great with a lot of confidence. Physically great, mentally great. It was the right decision to go there.”
Thiem went on to reach his first Grand Slam final, where he fell short against Rafael Nadal, who won his 11th Roland Garros title.
Fans will remember Thiem's Paris run from his 2018 clay season, but it is safe to say the confidence he earned in Lyon paid dividends.