Rotterdam 2015: Dominic Thiem upsets Gulbis in youthful half of draw

Dominic Thiem beats Ernests Gulbis in straight sets to reach the second round of the ABN AMRO ATP tournament in Rotterdam

This time last year, a 20-year-old talent from Austria, Dominic Thiem, was a fast-rising youngster with just five main-tour wins to his name, all of them achieved on home soil.

Then still ranked outside the top 100, he was about to make a big impression not just on the Netherlands crowd but on his fellow professionals. He arrived for his first Rotterdam appearance after qualifying for the Australian Open and achieving his first Grand Slam match-win.

Here too he came through qualifying to reach the second round, where he met—and gave an almighty scare to—Andy Murray. It took the Briton two hours, 21 minutes to pull out the win in three sets, but it also launched Thiem onto the big stage.

As Murray said afterwards, with a wry grin: “An exciting game to watch but not much fun to play: I’m sure we’re going to see a lot more of him! I remember playing matches like that when I was his age and it was a lot of fun! Now it’s a bit more stressful, but when I finish the match, I can appreciate his game and how he plays.”

How Thiem plays is guaranteed to please tennis fans: An energetic, compact, aggressive game with hints of Wawrinka about it—not least in a single-handed background wrought from a similar cast.

Sure enough, he broke the top 100 last February, reached the third round of his first Masters in Indian Wells, and again in Madrid, made his first final in Kitzbuhel in July, his first Grand Slam fourth round at the US Open, and broke the top 40 by the autumn.

Thiem faded towards the end of a gruelling season, but now he is back where that season took off, now 21 and giving an even more assured performance than last year.

The Austrian reached Rotterdam’s second round by beating friend and coaching colleague, the No6 seed Ernests Gulbis, 6-4, 6-2, in 69 minutes.

To add insult to injury, this was Thiem’s second win in two meetings against the charismatic but inconsistent Roland Garros semi-finalist. The younger man came back from two sets down to beat Gulbis at the US Open, too.

This victory was more decisive, with Thiem firing passing shots at will down both lines. But he is not a one-trick pony—willing to pick up shots at the net, happy to play sliced backhand rallies, and with a serve that can beat even the quick reactions of Gulbis.

Thiem is one of a clutch of young players in the Rotterdam draw, though the youngest, 17-year-old Alexander Zverev, lost in the first round to the No7 seed Roberto Bautista-Agut, 6-4, 6-1.

But Thiem shares the bottom half of the draw with three of the players born in the 1990s to have won a title last year. The highest ranked is No2 seed Milos Raonic, who could face Thiem in the quarters if both get that far. The other two 23-year-old stars could meet in the second round: No5 seed Grigor Dimitrov and world No20 David Goffin.

The draw is tough for all of them—though Montpellier finalist Jerzy Janowicz has pulled out with illness, to be replaced by Tobias Kamke. Rotterdam has four of the world’s top-10 players here this week, nine of the top 20, but the points and prizes are significant.

As Thiem will tell you after he strode up the rankings from here last year.

Also in the bottom half of the draw, Simone Bolelli continued his rich vein of form to beat the 29-ranks Lukas Rosol, 6-3, 6-1.

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