French Open 2015: Dominic Thiem continues clay roll over Briton Aljaz Bedene

Dominic Thiem seals a three-set win over Britain's Aljaz Bedene in the first round of the French Open

It may have been a while coming, but the rise of Dominic Thiem, the talented 21-year-old Austrian, seemed inevitable since the teenager with the one-handed backhand began to string Futures titles together in 2012.

By the end of 2013, it was Challenger titles, and then he made an even bigger impression at the start of last year by qualifying for the Australian Open and achieving his first Grand Slam match-win. Then he came through qualifying in Rotterdam 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, and afterwards drew the his admiration: “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 Stan Wawrinka about it—not least that backhand 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, breaking the top 40 by autumn.

Thiem faded towards the end of a gruelling season, but returned this year to carry on where he left off: a quarter-final run in Miami—where again he took Murray to three sets—and his first title last week in Nice, beating four top-30 players in the process to reach a career-high 31 as he arrived in Paris.

Despite that ranking, the Nice run may have been the main ray of hope of his first opponent here, Aljaz Bedene, who was making his Grand Slam debut since becoming a UK citizen.

The 25-year old Slovenian, ranked 75, had yet to get beyond the first round of any of the Majors, but then at this year’s Australian Open, he won three qualifying rounds only to face eventual champion and world No1 Novak Djokovic. He also reached his first main-tour final in Chennai, and arrived in Paris with the Rome Challenger title to his name. So the Briton was in some form, and Thiem was carrying a demanding two and a half hour 6-7(8), 7-5, 7-6(2) final in his legs.

This, too, would be a long affair with more errors than winners on both sides, a first serving level that struggled to reach 50 percent, countless deuce games, and breaks back and forth.

Thiem edged the first set having led 5-1 until Bedene broke back, 6-3. It was a similar story in the second, with Thiem taking a 4-0 lead but conceding a break back. He closed out the set, 6-4, but initially fell behind in the third, 3-1, only to level again at 3-3. With the clock ticking past two and a half hours, the set heading past an hour, they headed to a tie-break.

Here, too, Thiem maintained the edge with a sequence of forehand winners for an early 3-1 lead, then served for the match at 6-4, only to double fault. They changed ends at 6-6, and Bedene forced one final error for the set, 7-6(6).

The final set would take another substantial three-quarters of an hour, but this time, Thiem achieved the only break, immediately after Bedene took a medical time-out for treatment to blisters, and the Austrian held onto that lead to serve out with an ace, 6-3.

It had taken 3hrs and 22mins, and Thiem will be grateful for a rest before taking on the in-form single-hander, Pablo Cuevas, already the winner in Sao Paulo and the Istanbul finalist.

Bedene was happy with his performance except for his slow start.

“In the third set, I felt better because obviously he was a little bit tired. Unfortunately I didn’t take the break point in the third game so it could have gone the other way… When he’s confident, he can play. I guess the slow beginning cost me the match. [But] I think this was one of my matches in a Grand Slam.”

Also in this quarter, Gilles Simon scored his 350th match-win in beating countryman Lucas Pouille, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, and will next play Martin Klizan.

No4 seed Tomas Berdych sailed past a qualifier into the second round, which he has failed to do at Roland Garros on five previous occasions. It was his 10th win on clay in a season that has seen the Czech reach the quarter-finals or better at all nine of the tournaments he has contested, and he was clearly delighted: “I came into the tournament after very, very good weeks on the clay, which is very important to me. [I’ve] been playing a lot of matches, winning a lot of them, and also in between those weeks I have had very good preparation.

“So everything has been aimed for this tournament… I definitely want to go and do well. I’m feeling well. I’m feeling physically, mentally strong, and that’s the best possible start that I can have.”

He will next play verteran Radek Stepanek.

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