For much of Sunday afternoon Dominic Thiem appeared to be right on track. He had established a two sets to love lead against the world No 68, he generated a break point in the third set and he seemed to be on his way to a solid win. But then, out of the blue at 3-4 in the third set, he inexplicably threw in four unforced errors in a row and lost his service game to love.
Thiem would spend the rest of the day trying to regain his momentum and he was ultimately unsuccessful. The fourth seed and two-times Roland Garros finalist squandered his two sets lead in its entirety as Pablo Andújar, a recent victor over Roger Federer, triumphed 4-6, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4.
Before this tournament, Thiem had never lost to a player outside the top 30 at Roland Garros and nor had he fallen before the quarter-finals since 2015. Beyond the dominance of Rafael Nadal, in recent years Roland Garros has been one of his highlights of each season. This year, however, is a very different season in his life.
After winning his first slam title at the US Open last year, Thiem felt the delayed effects of the effort months later in the form of waning motivation after the Australian Open. Thiem took the decision to withdraw from numerous tournaments and then he spent weeks away from tennis without touching a racket until he felt he was ready to return.
Despite affirming that his motivation is renewed since his return this month, he has continued to struggle with his form and this defeat simply marks the brutal consequence of those struggles.
“I was not struggling at all with my motivation, but the game was just not there today,” he said afterwards. “All the shots are missing power. They are not accurate enough. I’m not moving well enough, so everything in my game has some per cents missing. I don’t really know why, because since I stepped back on court it’s already been two months, and I was really practising well, super intense as well.”
According to Thiem, he has felt his game well in practice but on Sunday “the shots and how I moved and everything was just not the real me”. Britain’s Dan Evans appears to share similar sensations on the biggest stages. Despite playing some of the best tennis of his life for the past year elsewhere, he fell in the opening round of a slam for the third consecutive time. This time, a bright start ended in despair as the 25th seed was defeated 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 by Miomir Kecmanovic.
“It’s disappointing again,” said Evans. “It’s hard to take. I felt good coming in, playing some good tennis. That’s the nature of the game, isn’t it? You know, you’re out of the tournament before it’s literally started. So it’s a dire end to a decent clay season.
“I’ve got to dust myself off and go again. I’ll take a few days to get [over it] – difficult, really, to take. Just the way it played out. Essentially I was outplayed and that’s probably not what I want to be hearing or happening on the court.”
Upsets continued in the men’s draw as Grigor Dimitrov led by two sets, 5-1 in the third set and triple match point at 0-40 before losing to the American Marcos Giron. Dimitrov was already suffering from a back injury as he failed to convert the three match points and he lost nine games in a row before retiring with the score 6-2, 6-4, 5-7, 0-3.