World No. 5, Dominic Thiem starts his Paris Masters campaign on Wednesday when he faces big-serving Canadian, Milos Raonic in the second round.
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Thiem is seeking a sixth consecutive win on the tour, having won five matches in his title run at his home event in Vienna last week. Victory in Vienna took Thiem to five titles for the season, more than anyone else on the tour this season.
It is also worth noting that three of those five titles have been on hard courts- one at the Masters 1000 meet at Indian Wells, and two at ATP 500 events in Beijing and Vienna. The remaining two titles have been customary clay-court successes in Barcelona and Kitzbuhel. The other big highlight from his year so far was a second successive final at the French Open, where he was beaten by the great Rafael Nadal.
There was a time when Thiem really struggled in hard courts, particularly on the North American-Asian stretch towards the end of the year, but he has made very noticeable improvements over the last couple of seasons. The Austrian reached his first major quarter final on hard courts at the US Open last year, coming within whiskers of beating Nadal in an epic contest, while he advanced to his maiden Masters 1000 semi-final on the surface in Paris later in the year, beaten Gilles Simon, Borna Coric and Jack Sock, before falling to eventual champion, Karen Khachanov.
His hard court results have got even better this year, as he won Indian Wells for his maiden Masters 1000 title, and backed it up with titles in Beijing- his first success in Asia- and Vienna. The 26-year-old has been the poster boy of the Erste Bank Open in Vienna in the last few years, but he had faltered in his bid to deliver a home title, failing to go past the quarter-finals- until 2019.
Thiem was handed a challenging draw in Vienna, and at times, he flirted with elimination, but he showed commendable grit and poise under pressure come away with the title. Three times he lost the opening set- against Fernando Verdasco, Matteo Berrettini and Diego Schwartzman- but he battled back on each occasion to deliver a popular and emotional home title.
In between his titles runs in Beijing and Vienna, Thiem also reached the quarter finals in Shanghai, meaning he’s won 12 of his last 13 matches, with his only defeat coming against Berrettini in that Shanghai quarter final. He has been in excellent form, and he’ll look to keep it going in Paris, where he opens against Milos Raonic on Wednesday.
Raonic booked his second round spot with a comfortable 6-3 6-2 victory over Great Britain’s Cameron Norrie.
The big-serving Canadian needed just an hour to power past Norrie, sending down 14 aces and dropping just one point behind his first serve, and six points on serve altogether. The former world No. 3 did not face a break point throughout the match, while he converted three of the six opportunities he forced on Norrie’s serve.
Performances like that have been almost non-existent in recent months, and that’s because he’s hardly played.
It has been another injury-hit season for Raonic, who has had to miss Roland Garros and the US Open, and has seen his ranking drop to 32nd in the world after starting the year inside the top 20. The Canadian had a few decent results in the first half of the year, reaching semi-finals at Indian Wells and Stuttgart, and quarter finals at the Australian Open, Brisbane and Queen’s. Raonic also got to the fourth round at Wimbledon, but he’s hardly played since then, as Paris is only his fourth tournament after SW19, and Monday’s victory over Norrie was just his third win since then.
He won one match each in Washington and Montreal, where he retired from his second round meeting with Felix Auger-Aliassime with a back injury, and subsequently missed the rest of the North American hard court season, and the entire Asian swing.
Raonic returned to the tour in Vienna, where he lost to Hyeon Chung in his comeback match, but he’s got back to winning ways in Paris, beating Norrie for his first win since August.
The former Paris Masters finalist now aims to secure consecutive wins for the first time since Wimbledon when he faces Dominic Thiem on Wednesday.
Raonic holds a 2-1 record against Thiem, but both of his victories came back in 2016, with Thiem winning their most recent encounter at Indian Wells earlier this year- a very tight 7-6 6-7 6-4 victory.
When fit, Raonic clearly poses plenty of danger on these speedy courts, and can serve his way past just about anybody if he finds his range from the service line. This is a very tough opener for Thiem, who must eliminate any lingering hangover from last week’s emotional success in Vienna and be very close to his best if he is to avoid an opening round exit in Paris.
Dominic Thiem vs Milos Raonic is live from Paris on Wednesday, 30 October from 11:00am local time/ 10:00am GMT