Thiem battles on as seeds fall by the wayside
January 04 2018 12:24 AM
Austrian top seed Dominic Thiem in action against Slovenia’s Aljaz Bedene during their Qatar ExxonMobil Open match at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex yesterday. PICTURES: Noushad Thekkayil

Seven down, one more to go! Ordinarily, that’s not how tennis reports are supposed to begin but considering the rather unusual circumstances at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, one just also cannot totally wish that thought away.
As of yesterday, the third day of the 26th edition of the prestigious tournament, as many as seven of the eight seeds had fallen by the wayside, four ousted in the first round itself and three following them in the second.
Blame it on the imperfections of the seedings system or the early-season blues, the fact remains that the non-appearance of Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga through injuries and the premature ouster of many of favoured players among the confirmed lot have robbed the event of some star power.
Fifth-seeded Richard Gasquet, seventh-seeded Fernando Verdasco and eighth-seeded Feliciano Lopez bowed out in the second round yesterday, falling to Greek qualifier Stefanos Tsitsipas, Russian Andrey Rublev and Bosnian wildcard Mirza Basic, respectively.
The results mean that the tournament will have a new champion this year, with the exit of 2013 champion Gasquet.
Earlier, Pablo Carreno Busta, Tomas Berdych, Albert Ramos-Vinolas and Filip Krajinovic had fallen at the first hurdle.
Thankfully, though, Dominic Thiem, the top seed, has survived, albeit not before blowing hot and cold against unseeded Slovenian Aljaz Bedene.
The 24-year-old Austrian played a patchy match. One moment he was sublime, the very next he was atrocious. In fact, the main reason why he got through to the quarter-finals was that he had a superior serve and also because of Bedene’s own lack of self-belief.
Thiem won 7-5, 6-4 when logically he should have wrapped up the encounter with much more ease. But then when you convert only three of your 13 break points such things are bound to happen.
Thiem was up 5-4 and held two set points in the 10th game but he squandered the advantage allowing Bedene to draw level. That left the match in a tricky situation but the Austrian was quick to recoup, winning his next service game and then breaking Bedene to take the set in 51 minutes.
Thiem’s lack of consistency was again on show in the second set. He had a golden chance to break Bedene in the second game itself but couldn’t capitalise, thanks to a couple of wayward shots. It was the same story in the sixth game which Bedene managed to save with great difficulty.
Games went with serve, until the Austrian, leading 5-4, broke Bedene in the 10th game to secure victory after a lacklustre match.
Thiem said he had no complaints, having won the match in two sets, even saying his two matches so far were a perfect start for him in the new season.
“I’m pleased today. I’m through in straight sets. It was a tough match, but I expected it and had two tough matches which I both won in straight sets. So I think that’s a perfect start to the new year,” said the Austrian who has won six titles so far.
“If you have to fight a lot, if you have to suffer a bit, I think it’s very good like this. You get a lot of tough situations already in the first matches, and that’s why I’m happy with the start.”
Thiem, who will play the quarter-finals against Tsitsipas, added that improving his net play was a priority for him.
“I practise volleys a lot, but it’s not that easy to come in nowadays. All the players are very fast. They play really good passing shots. So I improve my volley, but still I have to watch out when I come in. And maybe I come in a little bit more often, but I’m not going to come in every short play on the volley.”
Thiem played in Qatar for the first time as a qualifier in 2014, and having made the transition to top seed at this year’s event, was pretty pleased with himself.
“When I played here in 2014, I think I was 140 in the world. So it was amazing for me to qualify. I was the happiest guy on the planet because I qualified and it was the start of my career basically. Everything started here.
“And now, of course, I’m experienced. I know how the Tour works. I’ve probably played 350 matches since then. And it was nice back then. I was inexperienced. I was really young and fearless. And a lot of things change. But of course, it’s better to be up in the ranking and top seed then have to pay the qualies.”
Earlier in the day, Rublev, 20, ousted Spain’s seventh-seeded  Verdasco in three sets, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, and wildcard world number 138 Mirza Basic shocked eighth seed Lopez 6-4, 7-6 (2).
“Of course I’m really happy. I’m happy to take my revenge because I lost against Fernando (2017 Paris Masters) a few months ago. Also a tough match. Today I won a tough match, so I’m really happy. And I’m really happy to be in the quarter-final, and I will try to do my best tomorrow,” added the rising Russian, whose father was a professional boxer and mother a tennis coach.
Croatian Borna Coric, meanwhile, followed up his impressive upset victory over second seed Carreno Busta with a 6-1, 6-3 romp over Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili. It was the world number 48 Coric’s first win over the Georgian in three meetings, having previously lost to him in Lyon and Cincinnati last year. Coric will take on Rublev in the quarter-finals.
Gael Monfils of France, who was given a wildcard, also advanced to the quarters, beating German Jan-Lennard Struff 6-3, 1-6, 6-3, who had shocked third-seeded veteran Tomas Berdych in the first round.
In the last singles match of the day, Tsitsipas went past veteran Frenchman Gasquet 6-3, 6-4 in straight sets.

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