The Frenchman Hugo Gaston was given a standing applause as he made an exit from the centre court at Roland Garros after his gutsy display againt the US open champion and the world no. 3. An unorthodox game plan in which drop shots starred nearly crushed the hopes of one of the tournament favourites. But Thiem overcame the crafty lefty 6-4, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3 after three hours and 32 minutes in one of the best matches of the tournament.
Hugo Gaston entered Roland Garros without a tour-level win. But Dominic Thiem, the two-time finalist at this event and latest grand slam champion, needed everything he had to survive a drop shot deluge and end the 20-year-old’s fairy tale run.
The young man was fighting hard from the very start. He had 2 break points on Thiem’s first serve game although he failed to convert them. But Thiem showed his class, winning the first two sets easily. Gaston showed immense grit in the third set. He had multiple set points but was unlucky as the net calls favoured Thiem. At the end he broke Thiem’s serve and won the set. He capitalized another break in the fourth set to win it amidst the limited French crowd behind him.
The match was fascinating theater, with Thiem the bull and Gaston the matador. There were moments when both men made mistakes, but the patterns of rallies were thrilling to watch. Thiem kept trying to hammer away with his groundstrokes, crushing 59 winners, while Gaston used his speed and variety to great effect. Once the lefty got into a rhythm, he redefined the one-two punch. Instead of using his serve and forehand, Gaston hit drop shots and lobs to get Thiem off his game, especially when the 27-year-old was camped deep behind the baseline. The Austrian rarely adjusted his court positioning, and Gaston took full advantage.
Thiem battled until the end, advancing to the RG quarter-finals for the fifth consecutive year. He is the eighth man in the Open Era to reach five consecutive quarter-finals at the clay-court Grand Slam. The Austrian hasn’t lost before the semi-finals at this event since 2015, when he was 21.
World No. 239 Gaston was trying to become the lowest-ranked man to reach the RG quarter-finals since the FedEx ATP Rankings were introduced in 1973. He would have also become the first wild card to reach the last eight at the tournament since countryman Henri Leconte in 1992.
Thiem had not lost a set in the tournament entering the match, and he appeared in control through two sets. But Gaston showed why tennis can be an art form, showing no fear of the Austrian’s pure power. Thiem will next play Rome finalist and close friend Diego Schwartzman, who eliminated Italian Sonego in straight sets.