For the first time in its nearly century-and-a-half history, Wimbledon was cancelled for a reason other than war as it became the latest major sporting event in 2020 to fall victim of the coronavirus pandemic.
Dominic Thiem has been on a hell of an ascent of late.
The 26-year-old has found himself in three of the past eight finals at grand slam level.
“Yes, he’s made three grand slam finals, but he’s lost them all,” I can hear you saying.
He was close to breaking through at Melbourne Park. Very, very close. This is the year Thiem can take the next step in his career to break through for his first major.
A lot can happen before the 2020 edition of Roland Garros commences on May 24. Rankings will change throughout the men’s game. ATP Tour titles will be won and lost. Injuries will happen. Just this week, it was announced Roger Federer will miss this year’s Roland Garros tournament after having knee surgery, prying open the door for Thiem to move up to number three.
Although for Thiem, his rank coming into the tournament probably won’t factor all that much into his chances of leaving Paris with the Musketeers’ Trophy. In all probability, he will meet Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic or both of them at some stage even if there’s a significant change in his ranking.
There will be threats throughout the draw. You can never count out Novak Djokovic, despite his modest one French Open crown. Djokovic is an accomplished clay-court competitor and perhaps he doesn’t get the credit for it that he deserves.
There will be younger challengers such as Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev, who will all be desperate to make strides in their respective careers. All of them will have aspirations of going all the way. The old guard represented by guys like Gael Monfils, Grigor Dimitrov and especially 2015 champion Stan Wawrinka will all fancy their chances.
It’s hard to write a piece on Thiem’s chances at Roland Garros without mentioning a certain someone. Wherever he ends up being seeded, it is hard to imagine Thiem will be able to make a title run and avoid meeting meeting the most successful man on the Parisian clay of all time, Rafael Nadal, at the same time.
If Thiem fails to secure his first major title at Roland Garros this year, it will be because he loses to Nadal, or Nadal is knocked out elsewhere, which is unlikely.
I can’t see Thiem being beaten by anyone else on tour. He has worked too hard in recent times to be beaten by anyone other than the greatest clay court competitor of all time. He was so close to achieving his first major, just last month on Rod Laver Arena. The wound from that defeat is still fresh. Thiem will need to use it as motivation.
To go all the way, he will need to find another gear. I don’t mean with his serve or his forehand. Or with his backhand. Thiem will need to go to that mental place where the big three go when the chips are down. We saw it in the Australian Open final. Djokovic’s mental toughness was a huge part of that win.
Thiem will be hungry. He will be ready. Will he leave Paris with his first major? I really hope so.