While the women’s singles have already seen some upsets in Sloane Stephens, former No 1 Garbine Muguruza, and former finalist Victoria Azarenka, the men’s side had gone relatively upset-free, until Wednesday. Fourth seed Dominic Thiem lost to the unseeded Italian Thomas Fabbiano, ranked 87th in the men’s singles, in a four-set match that went 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in favour of the lower-ranked player.
Ahead of the match last night, Thiem had said he knew Fabbiano was a strong baseliner and he expected a big game from him, but perhaps the Italian’s biggest weapon during the match was his humongous forehand, on full and consistent display throughout the match.
For Fabbiano, ousting top seeds at majors is becoming something of a routine; this is the second big Round 1 Grand Slam upset in a row by the 30-year-old Italian, who ousted NextGen star Stefanos Tsitsipas at Round 1 of Wimbledon earlier this year. Incidentally, Tsitsipas also saw a first-round exit, losing to Andrey Rublev in four closely-contested sets.
Strangely, it was also a repeat of Grand Slam fortunes for Thiem, who himself suffered his second Round 1 upset in a row at a major, having been ousted by American Sam Querrey in the Wimbledon opening round. Thiem, although he is a clay-court specialist, won his first-ever Masters title on hard courts this year, defeating Roger Federer in straight sets for the title at Indian Wells.
But illness has left the Austrian somewhat of a shadow of the player he was at the French Open, where he pulled out every stop and more to pull off a phenomenal victory over Novak Djokovic at the semi-finals of the French Open. A virus that had sapped him saw Thiem withdraw from Cincinnati earlier this month, and may still be continuing to impact his health.
Following the match, the World No 4 said he was "not at 100 percent," and seemed to be sore after the match, adding he was "unsure how much his (Fabbiano's) win was worth because it was not against the real me."
Thiem did not look his usual self, committing a staggering 48 unforced errors to Fabbiano's 20, and as the match went on, Thiem appeared to fall apart. The last two sets were particularly arduous for the Austrian, who committed 17 winners to 20 unforced errors in the final two. Thiem’s go-to weapon, his immensely strong, reliable backhand, was what let him down in the end, and with Fabbiano growing in confidence as the match progressed, the Italian loomed bigger and bigger.
For his part, Fabbiano was brilliant on both attack and defence. The 30-year-old took the early lead in set 1, taking full advantage of how far behind the baseline Thiem was standing. What was also evident during that Round 1 match was the Italian’s singular commitment to every shot; a particularly good rally early on in the second set saw a raucous cheer from the crowd for Fabbiano, who, firmly planted nearer the baseline, ran back and forth to chase down every shot he could. Despite the second set loss, the Italian’s focus did not waver.
Thiem appeared to regain a bit of steam going into Set 3, but Fabbiano quickly put paid to his efforts as he broke to open, with an extremely poor service game from Thiem. Quickly going up 3-0 against his rival, the athletic Italian covered a significant distance chasing down shots in the third.
For Thiem, it appeared the match had already been lost; the 25-year-old looked tired, weak and not himself, having already appeared off-color in Montreal, where he survived till Round 3 before tumbling in a straight-sets exit.
Long dubbed the 'Prince of Clay' and considered the successor to Rafael Nadal on that surface, Thiem was not exactly going to have a cakewalk against Fabbiano, five of whose ten wins on the Tour have been at the Grand Slam level; Fabbiano’s own game quite favoured the quick courts of Wimbledon, giving him an advantage on speedy hard courts.
While Thiem appeared overcome by exhaustion and pallor and almost gave up towards the final set, Fabbiano held on and gave it his all throughout, with several great points from the Italian being cheered for by an enthusiastic US Open crowd.
Fabbiano now faces Alexander ‘Sasha’ Bublik, a hard-court specialist who is currently ranked 75 — not far off from Fabbiano himself. Although it has not necessarily translated into wins for him, Bublik has shown both skill and gumption this year and could be a strong opponent for the Italian in Round 2.
Interestingly, Fabbiano has had bigger victories and better performances at higher-ranked tournaments than lower ones, so the Italian could well progress to Round 3, where he could face compatriot Lorenzo Sonego.
If he can continue to play as he did against Thiem, with not just consistency but an increasingly high level of tennis, Fabbiano should well be able to continue his US Open juggernaut.
Updated Date: Aug 28, 2019 13:48:57 IST