Thiem continues to show why he's destined to be world's best

The new world no.7 reached his first Grand Slam semi-final in the French capital.

Thiem continues to show why he's destined to be world's best
Thiem in action at Roland Garros | Image Credit: New York Times

Ahead of Roland Garros, as always before a major tournament, past greats, media and fans alike meticulously scanned draws and tried to paint the picture of what the two weeks that lay ahead was going to create, finishing with who would be crowned the King & Queen of the Parisian clay (those honours falling to Novak Djokovic & Garbiñe Muguruza).

Whilst the constant dreary clouds that descended upon the French capital, bringing with it copious amounts of rain which caused the levels of the river Seine to almost the point of bursting banks, wiping out a full day's schedule for the first time in sixteen years, will likely be the image which comes to the forefront of most people's minds when reminiscing 2016's second major, new names emerged and shone on the clay, making the predictions of many looking rather foolish.

On the women's side, Muguruza was the last standing to take her first major crown. Kiki Bertens, winner of the pre-French Open tournament in Nürnberg, continued her magnificent recent run, all the way to the last-four. Shelby Rogers and Yulia Putintseva, unheralded by the majority, worked their way through to the quarter-finals.

On the men's side, despite no Roger Federer and both the nine-time champion Rafa Nadal and home favourite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga withdrawing, the usual suspects lasted the distance, with Djokovic's astonishing achievement of becoming just the third man in history to hold all four Slams at the same time (with the "soleil" deciding to ironically break through the grey for pretty much the first time just as the tournament ended) the crowning glory.

Andy Murray reached his first final in Paris, whilst Stan Wawrinka made a gallant defence of his title, as the Scot ended his hopes. So with the top three seeds, despite a few bumps along the road, making the latter stages as expected, a new name was going to join them with no Federer, no Nadal, no Tsonga.

Step forward a 22-year old Austrian who completed the last-four line-up. Yet Dominic Thiem reaching the semi-finals wasn't really that much of a surprise for anyone who knows their stuff when it comes to tennis.

Making a breakthrough on one of the four grandest stages

"For sure, winning a Grand Slam is not as far away as last year. I think I can go far in the French Open, but to win such a tournament you need to beat four or five top guys and maybe I am not quite ready. I still have to prove it in the big tournaments."

He most certainly proved himself to be correct. Whilst he didn't have to beat some of the "top guys" on his way deep into the second week, with Nadal's wrist & Tsonga's knee (both of whom were in the second quarter with him) causing them both to drop out of the tournament, Thiem, seeded 13th in Paris, now had the pressure of being the favourite to get to the semi-finals of the four remaining players in that section, especially with what he's achieved so far this year.

Thiem's a three-time winner in 2016, including his first ATP 500 crown in Acapulco | Image Credit: Bleacher Report
Thiem's a three-time winner in 2016, including his first ATP 500 crown in Acapulco | Image Credit: Bleacher Report

But he prevailed, defeating David Goffin, the Belgian seeded a place above him, when he so nearly could have been two sets down. Yet, in this hugely rewarding encounter, with the victor also breaking into the world's top-10 for the first time, Thiem showed why he probably has been the second best player in the world this year behind Djokovic. A wonderful defensive lob on set point down in the second set tiebreaker kept him in the point (which he saved) and he then went on to take that and the following two sets.

It showed just how physically and mentally strong the Austrian is at such a young age, and whilst Djokovic ended his fantastic, but not unexpected, run to his first major last-four appearance, coming out on top of the battle between the two men who've collected the most wins on the ATP tour in 2016, Thiem, was now the new world no.7 and most certainly apart of the elite of the men's game; a name part of the now and definitely the future.

A mature head on young shoulders

As his name gets thrown into the limelight even further as he continues to add success to his already impressive resume, Thiem seems to handle all the off-court stuff rather well for someone so young. Already a champion and being tipped to win Grand Slams and be a future no.1 (which right now, appears almost certain), he doesn't look too far ahead, focussing on the here and now. He'd rather look at the positives than the negatives.

For a 22-year old, having such a mature head on his shoulders already, as if he's been on tour for a decade or longer, is another extremely useful asset to have. Take world no.2 golfer Jordan Spieth for example. Like Thiem, a 22-year old special talent, who speaks and acts, both on and off course, as if he's a seasoned veteran. Of course, he's already achieved so much in his short career so far: a Masters and US Open champion, a world no.1, a dominant 2015.

A talented 22 year old with a mature head on young shoulders: Thiem shares characteristics with Jordan Spieth | Image Credit: Getty
A talented 22 year old with a mature head on young shoulders: Thiem shares characteristics with Jordan Spieth | Image Credit: Getty

Whilst Thiem hasn't experienced yet the feeling of being a major champion, he has similar characteristics to Spieth. Both as well are following in the footsteps of a period of dominance. With Federer not getting any younger and Nadal continuing to struggle physically, despite Djokovic cruising and Murray the clear no.2 right now, Thiem is expected to be at the forefront of the next generation following the "Big Four."

Spieth has Jason Day and Rory McIlroy aside him, dubbed golf's "Big Three", after Tiger Woods transformed the sport. But when thinking about four, five years down the line, the Texan, much younger than his two main rivals, as he is at the moment, looks to be the main figure of men's golf. The same goes with Thiem and men's tennis. He will have a back-up cast, but the Austrian appears to be the main protagonist.

The risk of burnout

Thiem has six career titles to his name, all coming within the past twelve months. Five of those six have been on clay (another reason why his semi-final run at Roland Garros was unsurprising) and half of those coming this year. He won his first ATP 500 title in Acapulco, either side of his victory in Buenos Aires and his successful defence in Nice, whilst also reaching the Munich final and his second Masters 1000 quarter-final in Rome.

As mentioned earlier, Thiem discussed just before the French Open about having to "beat the top guys" to win the big tournaments and he's shown signs that he can play and match the levels of the top names, proven during matches - Djokovic in Miami and Nadal in Monte Carlo. Despite losing both in straight sets, taking just 3 of 32 break point opportunities in the process of those two encounters, they were both filled with high quality moments; the world no.7 being a hugely difficult opponent to overcome. The Austrian did defeat Nadal on route to the Buenos Aires title in February and beat Federer (albeit not at 100%) in Rome.

However for Thiem, some have questioned his rather busy schedule and the risk he could potentially burnout over the coming weeks and months. He will play in Stuttgart this week, his 15th tournament of the year and we've only just entered June, Halle next week, and that's not including taking part in doubles, the Davis Cup and the hours upon hours of practice and training. His first match in south-west Germany, against Australia's Sam Groth, will be his 53rd singles match of the year.

The Austrian should be celebrated for wanting to play a lot of tennis | Image Credit: ATP World Tour
The Austrian should be celebrated for wanting to play a lot of tennis | Image Credit: ATP World Tour

He doesn't though appear to be feeling the effects of so much tennis right now. Thiem won't be playing at the Olympics in Rio, yet he clearly loves what he does, hence the numerous tournaments he takes part in, wanting to go far, reaching finals and winning titles. Right now, trying to add trophies to his cabinet remains the aim, continuing to solidify himself at the top of the men's game. The risk of injury is higher and he can now pick and choose where he wants to play with his career high ranking, but he seems to have the stamina and the character to last in high-pressure matches.

That fact and Thiem should be celebrated for that. He wants to play, he wants to fight, he wants to win. He's already here and he's going to be here for a long time. His peers have spoken very highly about his game and the person he is. No wonder then that he's so often described as a future Grand Slam winner and a future world no.1. Tennis is in a very fortunate position knowing Thiem is well on his way to doing both.