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By Richard Pagliaro | Monday, September 28, 2020

 
Dominic Thiem

Dominic Thiem spoiled Marin Cilic's 32nd birthday bursting to a 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 win in his Roland Garros opener for his 14th win in his last 15 major matches.

Photo credit: @Roland Garros

Dominic Thiem walked out onto Court Philippe Chatrier carrying a major mantle—and spent the next two hours shrinking space for Marin Cilic.

The reigning US Open champion opened his Roland Garros campaign closing the door on Cilic 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

More: After Painful Loss, Murray Vows to Soldier On

On Cilic’s 32nd birthday, Thiem took over the party toward the end of the opening set and never relinquished control of this match, reaching the Roland Garros second round for the seventh straight year.

It was a fast start to a historic quest.

Thiem is bidding to become the 10th different man to win the US Open and Roland Garros in the same season—and aiming to make history as the first man to win Flushing Meadows and Paris back-to-back as the Coronavirus pandemic prompted the French Tennis Federation to move the French Open from its traditional May starting spot to the autumn.

Beneath the closed roof of Court Philippe Chatrier, Thiem played with power and purpose dispatching the 2014 US Open champion for the second straight Slam. Thiem broke serve six times and committed just 21 unforced errors compared to 43 for Cilic.




"I love the conditions, because, well, I'm from Austria," said Thiem, who beat Cilic in four sets in the US Open third round. "I love it when it's not too fast."

It was Thiem’s 14th victory in his last 15 major matches.

Wearing a long-sleeved black shirt beneath his black adidas polo, Thiem disarmed Cilic raising his record to 4-0 against the lanky Croatian.

"I try to be 100% no matter the opponent. But maybe there is some little extra motivation or some extra percent in myself, because I know that I have to play my best tennis to beat Marin because of all the things he achieved and because he's still playing really, really good," Thiem said. "The main challenge was to have or to get the match tension again. Because, I mean, I was on fire in NewYork for two weeks, and then one week at home where I tried to relax but not lose all the tension, because obviously I want to do well here in Paris.

"I guess I found a good mixture, and I'm very happy withthis first round today."

The 40th-ranked Cilic used his flat drives, net play and the occasional drop shot to stay in step through eight games. Then Cilic shanked a shot gifting the break and a 5-4 lead to Thiem.




Facing triple break point when serving for the set, Thiem denied the first two break points then caught a break when Cilic brain-cramped going for a drop shot from behind the baseline. Thiem completed his escape snatching a one-set lead when Cilic scattered a crosscourt forehand.

Despite hitting eight more winners—11 to 3—and earning four break points in the set, Cilic came up short at crunch time. Cilic won 12 of 17 trips to net in the opening set, but won just five net points over the course of the next two sets.

Even amid heavy court conditions, Thiem’s high-bounding topspin gave him much more net clearance than the flatter-hitting Cilic.

Swinging more freely, Thiem won eight of the first 11 points to start the second set with a break and early lead.

The two-time Roland Garros runner-up played clean combinations throughout the set extending his lead to 5-3. Cilic erupted in a primal scream shanking a smash to face set point. He saved it with a forehand drop shot.

Sliding into a slick backhand pass he put off the sideline gave Thiem a second set point. Cilic denied it with a delayed serve-and-volley.

Undeterred, Thiem roped a clean backhand winner down the line breaking again to build a two-set lead.

The third-seeded Austrian committed just three unforced errors—11 fewer than his opponent—taking the second set.

Though Cilic broke first to open the third set, Thiem broke back for 2-all.

The 6’6” Cilic struggled with his smash at the wrong times today. Hitting an overhead right back at Thiem, Cilic was at net ready for the reply when he pushed a drop volley into the tape giving up the break and a 5-2 lead to the world No. 3.

One of Thiem’s few mis-steps came when he served for the match at 30-all and tapped an easy volley into the tape to face a break point.

A twisting kick serve confounded Cilic to erase it as Thiem wrapped up his first win as a Grand Slam champion in two hours, six minutes.

Next up for Thiem is a second straight clash of US Open champions as he faces former Flushing Meadows doubles and mixed doubles champ Jack Sock for a spot in round three.

In an all-American opener, qualifier Sock swept Reilly Opelka breaking the big man five times in a 6-4, 6-4, 6-3 triumph. Sock joked about the challenge of facing Thiem next. 

"I heard he's pretty good on clay. I heard he played all right a few weeks ago in New York," Sock said. "I think he's being called the new king of clay after Nadal. He loves it here. Had some amazing results here. Probably playing the best tennis of his life or some of,winning his first Grand Slam a few weeks ago.

"I also think I'm a good player. I'm going to stick to mypatterns, stick to my games, hopefully try to dictate some points, control some of the match on my racquet. If he's doing that on his side of the court, moving you around,controlling points, it's not going to be a very good day against him. I'll have to do what I can to try to kind ofstick to my play and see how it goes."

 

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