After battling Australian Alex Bolt for five intense sets in front of his openly supportive home-crowd, Dominic Thiem prevailed on Thursday and made it to the third round of the Australian Open. He beat Bolt 6-2 5-7 6-7(5) 6-1 6-2.
The Austrian seemed to be in control till the second of the encounter. However, Bolt, who sent Gilles Simon home at the same stage of the tournament last year, came back with all guns blazing to put Thiem in a tight spot.
Immense home-crowd support for Bolt
In an unbranded T-shirt and creased canary yellow shorts, Bolt looked like he had wandered in from one of the South Australian worksites where he worked as a manual laborer before returning to tennis in 2016. Roared on by the crowd, the left-handed world number 140 stalked Melbourne Arena hitting winners from everywhere, including one around the net post, and putting huge pressure on Thiem.
Thiem was rattled to the extent he gave up the second set on the back of two unforced errors and it was the Australian who secured the third set on a tiebreak with a thumping ace before emitting a primal roar of delight. "He raised really his level. The crowd got going. It was all of a sudden a really tight third set that shouldn't happen ... I was freaking out," Thiem said.
The Austrian regained lost ground
Thiem regained his composure, however, and started to pick apart the tiring Australian with shots from a playbook he has been studying since he was a young child training with his tennis coach parents. Still pristine in his white and lilac kit, the 26-year-old was on level terms half an hour later and he cantered to victory without facing a single break point over the final two sets.
"He already had a five-setter in the first round and doubles yesterday," said Thiem, who will next face Kevin Anderson or Taylor Fritz. "I knew that probably he cannot really hold that level, so I just tried to stay in the match and it paid off."
Sent Giles home packing last year on the same day
On the same day Bolt beat Simon last year, Thiem was making an early exit from Melbourne Park after retiring from his contest against another local wildcard, Alexei Popyrin. The Austrian enjoyed a stellar season despite that early setback, ousting Novak Djokovic to reach the French Open final for the second time and winning big titles on hardcourts at Indian Wells and Beijing.
He is probably a bit old now to fit neatly into the category of "young gun" looking to break the three-year stranglehold of Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on the Grand Slam titles. Djokovic, however, has identified him as one of the chasing pack to watch and, with a lengthy but not overly exhausting test behind him, Thiem looks in good shape to get into the second week at Melbourne Park.
(With agency inputs)