By HOWARD FENDRICH, AP Tennis Writer
PARIS (AP) — Before, everything came so easily for Dominic Thiem on the tennis court — his powerful forehand, his elegant backhand, his hit calculations when, all honed to the point of a U.S. Open title and three other Grand Slam finals, including two at Roland Garros.
These days, even though the pain from tearing the tendon in his right wrist last year isn’t there anymore, the beatings and, most disconcertingly, the ways, aren’t what they used to be, to the extent where his first-round exit at Roland Garros on Sunday was his 10th consecutive loss.
The situation became serious enough that Thiem, a 28-year-old Austrian once ranked No. 3 but now No. 194, admitted after being beaten 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 by Hugo Dellien that he was maybe time for him to head to the lower-tier Challenger Tour to pick up a win and gain some confidence.
After lamenting his forehand, backhand and too-low first-serve percentage, Thiem got to the biggest problem: “Sometimes I make really stupid decisions during the rally, from drop shots or groundstrokes to the wrong moment. (In) match situations, I don’t play well. … Then, for example, there was a game today where I made four or five forehand return errors in a row, where I was like, “What’s going on? ?”
His quick start wasn’t the only notable development on a cloudy, at times drizzly, first day at the second major tennis tournament of the year, which again welcomed pre-pandemic sights and sounds of full participation and no mask in the stands.
Given Thiem’s problems – of course, he was runner-up to Rafael Nadal in Paris in 2018 and 2019, and Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open in 2020, but his last victory came in May 2021 – there had other results that were probably more surprising.
Mainly in this category, we will find the defeat 3-6, 7-6 (4) and 7-5 against the Polish Magda Linette, 56th classified, of Ons Jabeur.
Jabeur, a Tunisian who is the first Arab woman to win a WTA title and the first to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final, acknowledged: “I expected to go far in this tournament.”
Like others. That’s because Jabeur started the day with 17 wins on clay this season, including winning the title at the Madrid Open and reaching the final of the Italian Open.
Another women’s top-10 seed – and the 2016 champion there – was sent home when Garbiñe Muguruza was beaten 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 by Kaia Kanepi of Estonia. Muguruza beat Serena Williams in the final at Roland Garros six years ago and Venus Williams in the final at Wimbledon in 2017, but she has now lost her opener in Paris two years in a row.
Men’s number 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime avoided that kind of result, taking care of two missing elements on his CV in one afternoon: he won a victory at Roland-Garros for the first time in three tries and he won a match after losing the first two sets.
The 20-year-old Canadian came back to eliminate Juan Pablo Varillas, a qualifier from Peru making his Grand Slam debut, 2-6, 2-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-3.
Other winners included Sloane Stephens, 2017 US Open champion and 2018 French Open runner-up, Jil Teichmann No. 23 and Sorana Cirstea No. 26 in women’s; No. 18 Grigor Dimitrov, No. 23 John Isner and No. 26 Botic Van de Zandschulp.
Dellien, an 87th-ranked Bolivian, entered his match against Thiem with a career 2-7 record in Grand Slam matches. But from the start, he was able to defend himself in long grassroots rallies.
On the very first point, which lasted 24 shots, Thiem landed a backhand pass into the net and shook his head. At the next, he attempted a drop shot that floated wide. Not really close at all. Again, a nod. On the sixth point, a forehand return sailed well for a long time. This initial set ended with Thiem putting a forehand into the net, followed by a backhand into the net.
“Today he wasn’t at his best in the past, but I still had to beat him,” Dellien said. “It’s an important step in my career.”
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