World No. 5, Dominic Thiem begins his China Open campaign on Tuesday when he takes on Frenchman, Richard Gasquet in the first round.
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Thiem is seeking his first ever win at the tournament, having suffered opening round defeats in his two previous visits in 2015 (lost to John Isner) and 2016 (lost to Alexander Zverev).
The Austrian is also targeting a return to form and fitness having struggled with health problems in recent weeks. Outside the Laver Cup, where he defeated Denis Shapovalov and lost to Taylor Fritz, Thiem has not won an ATP Tour match since the Rogers Cup in Montreal, where he defeated Shapovalov and Marin Cilic before falling to Daniil Medvedev.
Thiem was bothered by illness through the North American hard court season- and was restricted to just two tournaments. Following that quarter final in Montreal, where he struggled with a cold, he withdrew from Cincinnati and lost to Thomas Fabbiano in the first round of the US Open. He went 1-1 in Austria’ Davis Cup victory in Finland just before the Laver Cup, suffering a shock loss to 163rd-ranked Emil Ruusuvuori, after which he admitted that he still wasn’t at his best physically.
It’s not the first time Thiem has been ill this year- he retired from a second round meeting with Alexei Popyrin at the Australian Open and generally struggled through the first two months of the season, but he picked up the pace significantly in March, claiming a surprise title at Indian Wells- his first at Masters 1000 level.
Thiem had a typically profitable time on clay, making the French Open final for the second straight year (lost to Rafael Nadal), and winning titles in Barcelona and Kitzbuhel. He is currently placed fifth on the ATP Race to London, and should do just about enough to qualify for the season-ending finals for the fourth consecutive year.
A good run in Beijing will certainly ease that quest, and he opens on Tuesday against Frenchman, Gasquet.
Gasquet has also had his health worries this season, as he missed the opening four months of the campaign after undergoing groin surgery in January.
Since his return at the start of May, the 33-year-old has reached a couple of semi-finals, in s-Hertogenbosch and Cincinnati, where he played arguably his best tennis of the season in beating Andy Murray, Federico Delbonis, Diego Schwartzman and Roberto Bautista-Agut before falling to David Goffin in the last four.
Given that he had made the Round of 16 in Montreal a week earlier, scoring good wins over Benoit Paire and Kei Nishikori, Gasquet went into the US Open in decent form, and would have been hopeful on putting together a decent run, but he crashed in the first round at Flushing Meadows, losing to eventual semi-finalist, Matteo Berrettini.
His most recent tournament was in Metz, where he opened with a three-set victory over Marcel Granollers before falling to Paire on the next round.
Gasquet began the season inside the top-30, but he was down at a season-low 68th by the end of July, only to climb back into the top 40 with those results in Montreal and Cincinnati. He is currently at No. 42 in the world.
The three-time major semi-finalist is returning to Beijing for the first time since 2016, having spent the simultaneous week in Tokyo in each of the last two years. Will it be a winning return to the Chinese capital for the Frenchman as he opens against Dominic Thiem on Tuesday?
Gasquet has beaten Thiem in each of their two previous meetings, in Basel in 2015 and Vienna in 2017, and I feel he’s got an excellent chance of completing the hat-trick in Beijing, especially given Thiem’s recent dodgy form.
Of course, Gasquet is a wonderful player in his own right, with arguably the finest single-handed backhand in the business, and it wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if he stopped Thiem in Beijing on Tuesday.
Dominic Thiem vs Richard Gasquet is live from Beijing on Tuesday, 1 October from 2:30pm local time/ 7:30am BST