Time for me to break Grand Slam jinx, says Thiem

by Dave JAMES
Thiem work: Dominic Thiem victory over Kei Nishikori

Dominic Thiem admitted Sunday that with his 25th birthday fast approaching, it was high time he finally claimed a Grand Slam title after years of under-performing.

Thiem made the quarter-finals at Roland Garros for the third successive year on Sunday, beating Japan's Kei Nishikori 6-2, 6-0, 5-7, 6-4.

In the last two years, the Austrian with the flashing one-handed backhand has gone on to the semi-finals in Paris.

However, that it is as good as it's got for Thiem.

At the Australian and US Open and Wimbledon, he has never managed to get beyond the fourth round.

As a result, and after years of being tipped as the heir apparent to Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, he's in danger of becoming overtaken by the widely-touted 'NextGen', whose leader Alexander Zverev he meets in Paris on Tuesday.

"I think for me it's time to move on to make a great step, because I'm turning 25 (in September). I'm not that young anymore," said Thiem.

"He's only 21."

Thiem, ranked at eight in the world, once famously trained carrying tree trunks on his back to build up his body mass.

There is no doubt that he also has tennis stamina.

It took Djokovic and Nadal -- who were to be the eventual champions -- to stop him in the Roland Garros semi-finals in 2016 and 2017.

For the second straight year, he is the only man to have defeated Nadal on clay prior to the French Open.

This year, he ended the 10-time French Open champion's 21-match and 50-set clay court win streak in Madrid.

That was the first set Nadal had dropped on clay since also losing to Thiem in Rome 12 months earlier.

Thiem admits that trying to make a Slam breakthrough during the same golden era as Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray has been particularly challenging.

However, he has often been his own worst enemy with some serious black marks on his majors record.

At the Australian Open this year, he was dumped out in the fourth round by American world 97 Tennys Sandgren.

At Wimbledon in 2016, he exited in the second round with Czech journeyman Jiri Vesely, ranked 64 at the time, delivering the killer blow.

"At the Grand Slams, there are the 'Big Four'. And the last ten years you needed to beat at least two of them in a Grand Slam to win, and not many players did it," said Thiem.

"Maybe it gets a little bit easier in the future when they are not that young anymore or when some of them stop.

"But every Grand Slam is a new chance, and every Grand Slam the young players want to take it."

At least Thiem can take heart from fellow countryman and former world number one Thomas Muster who won the French Open in 1995 playing in his 28th major.

This year in Paris, Thiem is taking part in his 18th.

Thiem work: Dominic Thiem victory over Kei Nishikori