Dominic Thiem’s quest for a third consecutive Roland Garros final berth is fraught with danger. Completion of the first stage will require the No. 3 seed, fresh off his first Grand Slam triumph at the US Open, to defeat former world No. 3 Marin Cilic for the second time this month. Defeating a player of Cilic’s caliber is never easy; doing so in back to back tournaments is much harder. But expect Thiem to swing for the fences with the proverbial Grand Slam monkey finally off his back.
“With this goal achieved, I think, and I hope that I'm going to be a little bit more relaxed and play a little bit more freely at the biggest events,” Thiem said.
Thiem will need to play relaxed, as his path to the final is perhaps the most difficult in the entire tournament. He will need every ounce of energy to defy the odds and complete the world’s first back to back US Open-Roland Garros double. Much has been made of the switch from the lively Babolat balls to the much slower and heavier Wilson balls, but the cold weather and damp conditions will affect play more than a tennis ball ever could.
“The Babolat were actually my favorite balls, they were nice and fast, perfect for my game, perfect for Nadal's game too,” Thiem said in an interview with Sky Sports Austria. “The new balls will be slower, more open. That will certainly change the results a bit.”
The biggest difference from years past appears to be the height of the ball bounce, it’s much lower than ever before. That could play into Cilic’s hands, as Thiem’s ultra-heavy spin will likely bounce the ball directly into the 6’6” Croatian's strike zone, instead of above it.
You can certainly make a case for an upset here, as Cilic wants revenge and Thiem could be in for an understandable natural letdown. But Vegas is less concerned, and lists the Austrian as a gigantic (-800) favorite. Thiem has never lost to Cilic in any of their three prior meetings, all on hard court, so a loss on his favorite surface seems unlikely. But as we’ve seen so far in 2020, anything can happen. Even if Thiem struggles with the conditions, still expect him to gut out a victory, as he’s never lost in the first round of Roland Garros.
The Pick: Dominic Thiem