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Back on favoured clay, Thiem wary of New York hangover

PARIS (Reuters) - Fresh from becoming the newest member of the elite Grand Slam winners’ club Dominic Thiem knows he can ill afford any hangover as he prepares for the Grand Slam that he most desires.

Sep 13 2020; Flushing Meadows, New York, USA; Dominic Thiem of Austria celebrates after his match against Alexander Zverev of Germany (not pictured) in the men's singles final match on day fourteen of the 2020 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Danielle Parhizkaran-USA TODAY Sports

The Austrian stylist seized his opportunity to win the U.S. Open this month -- beating Alexander Zverev in a gripping final.

It was fourth time lucky for the 27-year-old Thiem who had lost two French Open finals to Rafa Nadal and to Novak Djokovic in this year’s Australian Open final.

Nadal was absent from New York, as was Roger Federer, while Djokovic was defaulted in the fourth round and while that should not detract from Thiem’s feat, he will be anxious to prove in Paris that he now belongs in their exalted company.

“It’s not easy, because on one hand I’ve achieved a life goal, so I was so happy, so relieved, enjoying with friends and family,” third seed Thiem, who has played no claycourt warmup events ahead of Roland Garros, told reporters.

“At the same time it’s now a tournament coming up where I did great the last four years, where I really want to do great as well this year. I tried not to lose all the tension.

“I did nothing for three or four days, then I started to practice on clay. But I’ll see how I handle all the emotions, all the physical challenges which happened in New York. In the past I was not that great playing the tournament after big titles like Indian Wells last year or Vienna.”

Growing up on European claycourts, the French Open was probably the Grand Slam a young Thiem would have envisaged winning, although he landed in the toughest of eras with Nadal still at the peak of his powers.

Nadal beat him in the 2017 semi-final, them in the 2018 and 2019 finals, and he is seeded to face the Spaniard in the semis this year, although first he must clear a tough first-round hurdle in the shape of former U.S. Open winner Marin Cilic.

“I had four crazy years (at Roland Garros) with two semi-finals, two finals. I love the conditions here. I love the whole tournament,” said Thiem, who is coached by Nicolas Massu.

“First practice yesterday I straightaway felt great with the conditions, with the clay, in the Suzanne Lenglen stadium. I tried to not think too much about U.S. Open, but to see this as a new tournament, as a new challenge.”

While he acknowledges that 12-time champion Nadal remains the man to beat in Paris, Thiem believes the later start date for the tournament and different conditions opens the door.

“It can be super rainy, super cold end of September, beginning of October. Maybe that’s tougher for him,” Thiem said.

Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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