The budding rivalry between Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas continues to gather steam as the pair prepare to square off for a fourth time in five months.
The seventh-seeded Thiem won his first two meetings against the Greek teenager, in Doha and Indian Wells before Tsitsipas turned the tables on him and pulled off the upset in Barcelona on his way to a maiden ATP final.
On Wednesday, they take to the new Court 18 at Roland Garros for a highly-anticipated second round that will feature exciting one-handed backhands on both sides of the net. Tsitsipas, 19, is five years younger than Thiem, who is far more experienced at this level, having made the semi-finals at the French Open in 2016 and 2017.
The 39th-ranked Tsitsipas on the other hand claimed his first ever Grand Slam match win on Monday when he overcame Spaniard Carlos Taberner in four sets.
“It’s tough, it was my second time playing a best-of-five match. So it’s tough mentally to handle it the right away. It was a good first test for me,” Tsitsipas said of his opener in Paris and his lack of experience competing in the best-of-five format.
“First of all mentally it is tough when you lead and then you start thinking – although you shouldn’t think too much – but you start thinking ‘okay, I need to win one more, and one more’ and this way of thinking is tiring. And also physically, it is very tough.
“You try to give your 100 per cent but then you understand that if you give your 100 per cent on every point then you’ll be completely dead by the end of the third set, so you need to balance all those things together to keep a good level. So being physically prepared is very important to play these kind of matches.”
Thiem comes into Paris with a title victory under his belt, having lifted the trophy in Lyon last Saturday. He’s looking forward to another showdown with Tsitsipas.
“We played three times already this year. He’s one very good, upcoming player. Going to be top-10, for sure, in the future and playing already unbelievable. But, yeah, hope that I can have an advantage over best-of-five.”
Tsitsipas knows all too well what he’s up against but is keen to write a new chapter in this young rivalry.
“Believe me, he’s a tough player to face,” he said of Thiem.
“He can be very dangerous on this surface. I’ll try to play my game, be positive with my attitude, psychologically it will be very important to be balanced and believe that I can create an upset and do well against Dominic. I respect him a lot and I believe it’s going to be a tough match against him so I need to be prepared 100 per cent.”
He added: “In a way it is a rivalry yes. I’ve played Dominic a lot of times and it kind of feels like a rivalry. It’s exciting because I’ll play him plenty of times in the future so it’s good to start something like this early. It’s interesting in a way, for the fans and the players as well.”
An on-court shot clock counting down from 25 seconds between points was tested during the qualifying rounds at Roland Garros last week and will be introduced to the main at the US Open this summer.
The idea is to strictly enforce the rule of the time limit for the server, which is often abused by many players.
I watched a few qualifying matches in Paris and didn’t witness any issues with it and was curious to hear the thoughts of some of the players who had the shot clock on court for their clashes.
Latvian qualifier Ernests Gulbis didn’t mind the presence of the shot clock, but has thoughts on such new rules being tested on a specific set of players rather than across the board.
“I like when they have the same rules for qualifying and main draw. I don’t like it when they try to test something on the weaker players, on the worse… I don’t know. If they have a rule, they have a rule. It’s the same for everybody and I don’t like when they change that,” said Gulbis after his opening round win over Gilles Muller on Monday in Paris.
“I don’t mind any of these rules, I just don’t like it when somehow qualifiers or somehow the weaker tournaments are being pushed less, it’s a hard enough life for them.”
Ernests Gulbis. Man of the People.
Egypt’s Mohamed Safwat, who contesting the qualifying rounds at the French Open, found the shot clock helpful, but is not too keen on the one-minute limit before the coin toss.
“The shot clock doesn’t bother me, it’s a reference. But I didn’t like that one minute at the beginning. It’s so stressful. When you enter the court, you have one minute to be ready. If you exceed the one minute, you pay a fine. At the US Open, the fine was $500. It’s too much,” said the Egyptian.
“I was checking the shot clock from time to time. It didn’t distract me. The tempo starts to be faster.
“My opponent Henri Laaksonen, I didn’t understand what he was doing. He was just standing looking at the clock. He’s stand there at 17 seconds or something, and we’re waiting for seven, 10 seconds, and then he serves.”
THEY SAY COOL, SHE SAYS AWKWARD
Elsewhere, Naomi Osaka was her typical, entertaining self in the press conference room after her opening round victory over Sofia Kenin.
A GQ article about Osaka was recently published with the title describing her as ‘The coolest thing in tennis’.
Osaka, a shy, quirky character with the best one-liners, does not necessarily agree with that headline.
“That’s so embarrassing,” she said when I asked her about it. I think if they wanted to title it something, they should have titled it the ‘most awkward person in tennis’.
“If that’s how they feel, then I’ll take it, but I don’t think – with that title, I don’t think I’m that person.”
Naomi Osaka is the coolest thing in tennis https://t.co/XLUTrzXPeU
— GQ Magazine (@GQMagazine) May 25, 2018
Malek Jaziri dedicated his hard-fought five-set win over Mikhail Youzhny in the Roland Garros first round on Monday to his coach, who was hospitalised on the eve of the Tunisian’s match in Paris.
His coach, French former player Christophe Freyss, felt unwell a few days ago, and was admitted to a hospital on Sunday for what Jaziri describes as a heart blood clot.
“I’d like to dedicate this win to my coach, who suffered a blood clot in his heart and is currently in the hospital. He felt weird a few days ago and didn’t do anything about it. Then he went to the doctor yesterday and they admitted him. He wasn’t with me today,” Jaziri told Sport360 after he defeated Russian veteran Mikhail Youzhny 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 on Monday.
“I’ve been with him every single for almost six months. So today was different and I felt a responsibility today to win so I can make him happy. Thank God I won and hopefully I made him happy, and made Tunisians and all Arabs happy. I had pressure inside to win for him today.
“He needs to stay in the hospital for three days. I spoke to him briefly after the match. He’s with me in my heart and my mind and I wish him a speedy recovery.”
Jaziri had chances to wrap up his win against Youzhny in four sets as he went up a break for 2-0 in the fourth. But he scraped his knee on the clay when sliding and the umpire advised him to stop because it was bleeding. That interruption worked in Youzhny’s favour as he broke back upon the resumption of play and ran away with the set to force a decider.
But Jaziri, who entered the clash with a 3-0 winning record against Youzhny steadied the ship and secured the win in three hours and 33 minutes.
His reward is a second round showdown with French No. 27 Richard Gasquet, who crushed Italian Andreas Seppi 6-0, 6-2, 6-2.
Jaziri, who has two top-five wins this season against Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic, says he feels a lot more confident against such high-calibre players.
“I think the pressure will be a bit more on him. It’s a match I’m looking forward to. We’ve played each other before, but indoors, this time on clay at Roland Garros. It’s a good opportunity for me. I’m going in looking to get the win. My mentality now is much better, and I feel like I can beat anyone.
“I feel the players as well respect me more.”
Gasquet defeated the 34-year-old Jaziri in their sole previous meeting, in Montpellier last year.
It is a match that will likely take place on a big court at the French Open and Jaziri believes it would be a big step up for him to get a win like this at a Slam.
“It’s important of course. I’m going through somewhat of a rejuvenation period at the moment. I’m winning some important matches. Now I need to recover well because I played for three and a half hours,” said the Arab No. 1.