PARIS — After profitable his first Grand Slam singles title on the U.S. Open in September, Dominic Thiem figured to be a part of the game’s elite.
At 27, the highly effective Austrian appeared to have all the weapons to match Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. He had beforehand misplaced three Grand Slam finals however now had finally broken through and appeared primed for extra big-time titles.
Instead, one thing nearer to the other has occurred. Thiem, the No. Four seed who has struggled for months, notched yet one more disappointing efficiency on Sunday, coughing up a two-set lead to lose in a four-and-a-half-hour marathon to the Spanish journeyman Pablo Andujar, 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
While Andujar, 35, has lengthy been a stable clay-court participant, the loss is the most recent proof that the struggles, each psychological and bodily, that Thiem has spoken of this 12 months proceed to plague him.
“All the shots are missing power,” Thiem mentioned after the defeat. “They are not accurate enough. I’m moving not well enough, so everything in my game, there are some percents missing. I don’t really know why.”
For many champions, profitable a primary Grand Slam singles championship conjures up a starvation for under extra, although there was the occasional first-time winner who struggles with motivation after breaking by way of. That is the place Thiem has discovered himself within the wake of a U.S. Open title.
Earlier this 12 months, Thiem advised the German publication Der Standard that after dedicating 15 years to a singular objective, he “fell into a hole” as soon as he achieved it then fumbled his means towards making ready for the 2021 season.
He got here again from two units down in an exciting third-round win on the Australian Open in February, however when a Covid-19 outbreak pressured officers to ban crowds for 5 days, Thiem got here up empty in his subsequent match in opposition to Grigor Dimitrov, shedding 6-4, 6-4, 6-0. He mentioned he was overwhelmed by noon warmth and a way of loneliness.
He then had upset losses at tournaments in Dubai and Doha, took six weeks off and returned with middling success throughout Europe’s clay-court occasions — he made the semifinals in Rome then misplaced early in Madrid and Lyon.
Even with out his high kind, Thiem appeared to have the match beneath management on a spring afternoon at an occasion the place he has made the ultimate twice and has not misplaced earlier than the quarterfinals since 2015.
Even within the fifth set, Thiem held a break level to go up 3-1. He missed a forehand return and misplaced 10 of the subsequent 11 factors. Up a service break with a 4-2 lead, Andujar by no means seemed again.
At 4-3, he related with a forehand blast from Thiem who was just a few ft from the web when he made contact, blocking the ball into the open courtroom for a winner. On match level, Andujar smashed a forehand down the road and fell to his knees. He has not made the second spherical in Paris since 2015.
Speaking after the match, Thiem talked about what had occurred — what has been occurring for months — as a form of out-of-body expertise.
The previous 5 years have largely been an upward ascent for him, he mentioned. With a considerable lead, he nearly all the time wins.
“Losing after being two sets to zero up, it’s very strange to me,” he mentioned.
Thiem’s honesty about his struggles have generated empathy from different high gamers. Alexander Zverev, who misplaced to Thiem within the U.S. Open last, has spoken of battling motivational points through the pandemic, with gamers pressured to spend most of their waking hours of their lodges or at tennis amenities and to play in empty stadiums. Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece spoke of understanding Thiem’s want to broaden his psychological horizons after dedicating greater than half his life to one objective.
And but, Thiem appeared as pissed off and befuddled as ever after the loss to Andujar, who’s ranked 68th on this planet and has by no means made the second week of a Grand Slam.
“Something is different,” Thiem mentioned of his game earlier than the U.S. Open title and after. “It’s a big learning process.”