After losses in Munich and Madrid, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev bounced back with quality wins in Rome, ensuring their place in the second round — elsewhere, the struggles of Grigor Dimitrov continued, as he suffered another first round defeat after losing (it) in the finals of Istanbul and crashing out in his opener in Madrid.
In two of the last matches on the men’s side in today’s order of play in Rome, two of the younger hopefuls of the ATP Tour were able to get off to a winning start.
First up was Munich runner-up and man of the month of February — Dominic Thiem — who got past Alexandr Dolgopolov in a tricky opening match.
Dolgopolov has played spoiler at several occasions in his career, and the immense fluidity in his shoulder allows him to maximize serving ability like few other players on the men’s tour — particularly considering his height. On late Monday afternoon, however, the Austrian No. 13 seed was able to fend off his Ukrainian opponent on a packed Pietrangeli court.
The first two sets were fairly straight-forward affairs with Thiem and Dolgopolov each blinking once to surrender their serve and ultimately drop the sets — and the match found its decision in a decider.
In the third set, both men held on to their service games — albeit not as comfortably as in the opening stages of the encounter — and it wasn’t until the final game of the match when one man blinked. In it, the Ukrainian hit a forehand long and a backhand into the net to give Thiem two match points — and the Austrian converted at the first opportunity, as he put enough depth on his forehand to elicit a forced error from his opponent’s racket.
After his 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 win, Thiem was not only pleased about getting the job done, but also being able to recover after two tough losses in Munich and Madrid.
“I had a very good start of the season, and now I got a little bit tougher,” he said. “I didn’t play so good anymore the last two weeks, but, yeah, I had a good win today. I hope it’s a little bit a turnaround again.”
In the final men’s match of the day on Campo Centrale, another Alexander took court — but this time it was 18-year-old German Alexander Zverev, who played his first round match as the night began to fall across the Foro Italico.
Facing him was no less than Grigor Dimitrov, who himself was in the young German’s position a couple of years ago of being one of the “anointed ones” on the ATP Tour — but in recent months, the Bulgarian’s results have been on the slide. The past few weeks have seen Dimitrov tumble further — particularly mentally, with his Istanbul meltdown being the nadir in a tough phase of his career.
Last week in Madrid, Dimitrov said that he felt like “the kite in a perfect storm” over the past fortnight, but during his first match in Rome, Zverev made sure to take whatever wind the 24-year-old felt he had out of his sails.
“Well, people are always looking for the new World No. 1. It’s always been like that,” Zverev said about his slumping rival post-match. “Obviously, Grigor has been Top 10 already. He’s done well, as well. You know, I surely believe he will be back there again and competing for Grand Slams again.”
The German played a nigh-on flawless first set, and Dimitrov was unable to hit a single winner in the opener as he was the recipient of a 24-minute evening grissini (that’s basically a breadstick) at the Foro Italico. Zverev continued storming ahead in the second set, going up 4-1 quickly and it wasn’t until the 10th game or so that his opponent started swinging and moving a little more freely.
Dimitrov caught his lanky opponent off-guard with several drop shots and moved a little closer to the baseline as the set progressed, but his efforts of leveling the set were in vain. Zverev broke his opponent once again at 4-4 and eventually served out the set, and match, courtesy of a couple of aces.
Facing his idol Roger Federer for the first time in his career.
“It’s always something that I dreamed about, playing against Roger,” Zverev said. “You know, [brother] Mischa played here against him in a quarterfinals once, so obviously it’s going to be great and I’m really looking forward to it. I think he’s the best tennis player that ever played the game, so going to be obviously something really big for me and something great. Hopefully, we can have a great match and…a tough match and we’ll see how it goes.
“[I admire] him playing at the age of 34 the way he plays, being No. 2 in the world and, you know, really how easy it all looks — but I know there is a lot of hard work behind that all. You know, people only see what he does in the match courts and how easy it looks and how talented he is, but with that talent comes a lot of hard work, as well. I think he’s the perfect example with not, you know, showing too much to the public or something like that. I think the hard worker that he is and the way he plays the game is something that I always admired.”