Thiem relieved after coming into Australian Open cold
February 8, 2021
By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Dominic Thiem was relieved to find form when it counted as he fended off Mikhail Kukushkin 7-6(2) 6-2 6-3 to reach the Australian Open second round on Monday after piecemeal preparations ahead of the Grand Slam.
U.S. Open champion Thiem was trounced by Italian Matteo Berrettini in the ATP Cup and had only a set against Benoit Paire before the injury-hampered Frenchman retired during the team-based tournament.
It seemed the Austrian had not fully shaken off the rust on Monday as Kazakh Kukushkin broke him twice in the opening set at Rod Laver Arena and pushed within a point of taking it at 6-5.
But third seed Thiem nullified the threat and dominated the tiebreak before rolling on to an encouraging win.
“Yeah, definitely I felt nerves because it was a long time until the Slam, more than three weeks from when we arrived to Adelaide,” said Thiem, who quarantined in the South Australia state capital with Novak Djokovic and other top players.
“If I practise too many days in a row, I start to play worse again, instead of better.
“I didn’t really know where I’m standing at. And I also faced an opponent today who is tough to play, especially in these conditions.
“I’m happy how I did it and how I came through.”
Having made his Grand Slam breakthrough at Flushing Meadows, Thiem is considered one of the major threats to favourite Djokovic, who edged him in a five-set thriller in last year’s final.
Djokovic has said the speedier hardcourts at Melbourne Park this year should suit big-serving, hard-hitting players like Thiem, but the Austrian did not feel they played to his strengths.
“Not really. I mean, I like to have time, so the fast court takes it away a little bit for me, so that’s not perfect,” he said.
“I have the feeling that it’s one of the faster tournaments I’ve played in recent years, but it’s like that, that’s tennis.
“We have to get used to different conditions every year and almost every week, so this year is faster, and I’m actually happy how I adjusted to it.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)