With back-to-back ATP Masters 1000 tournaments coming up in Montreal and Cincinnati—and the last Grand Slam of the year, the US Open, shortly afterwards—many of the top players are shifting gears from grass courts to hard right now. But some players, including Dominic Thiem, are going back to clay, which we last saw at Roland Garros.
The world No. 4 is the top seed at this week’s Hamburg European Open, a 500-level clay-court event in Hamburg, Germany. The following week, he’ll play the 250-level Generali Open in Kitzbuhel, Austria.
Thiem has been the second-best player on clay after Rafael Nadal for the last few years, reaching back-to-back semifinals at Roland Garros in 2016 and 2017, and back-to-back finals in 2018 and 2019.
But after another deep run in Paris, Thiem elected not to play any grass-court lead-up tournaments, and he was subsequently ousted from Wimbledon in the first round. He received one of the tougher first-round draws in former No. 11 Sam Querrey, who eventually made the quarterfinals.
“Last year and this year together I played four grass-court matches, which is not a lot at all,” Thiem said after that loss to Querrey. “I mean, all the clay-court season, it takes a lot out of me. I gave everything I had physically and also mentally in all of the six weeks until the end of the French Open. Then I had to take the decision to come to Wimbledon without any preparation, and then of course it’s very tough to face Querrey, who loves grass, in my first official grass-court match of the year.
“But it’s a lot of experience, too. I’ll see how I do it next year. I like to play on grass, and of course I’d love to do better at Wimbledon, but playing that deep at the French Open, it’s a tricky situation.”
Dominic Thiem reached back-to-back French Open finals in 2018 and 2019. (Getty Images)
Thiem was asked whether he’d consider playing less on clay to get more preparation on grass.
“No, it’s not possible with the calendar,” the Austrian replied. “Right after the French Open, anyway, there’s no more clay-court tournaments. The only thing that I could do would be to skip the European clay after Wimbledon, but it’s Hamburg and Kitzbuhel, two tournaments that I really love.
“It’s one of the only two or three possibilities in the year when I can play at home.”
Kitzbuhel is one of the only two ATP stops in Austria—the other is Vienna, on hard courts, in October.
Thiem will try to win both events for the first time this year. His best result in two previous attempts in Hamburg was the quarterfinals, last year; his best result in seven previous attempts in Kitzbuhel was the 2014 final.
He’ll kick off his 2019 Hamburg campaign against Pablo Cuevas, a former Top 20 player who has won two of their six previous meetings—and who pushed him to a tough four-setter at Roland Garros this year.
Also in the draw are two more Top 10 players: No. 5 Alexander Zverev, who was born in Hamburg; and No. 10 Fabio Fognini, a former champion at the 500-level event in 2013.