Tennis: Rublev ends former finalist Thiem's Australian Open

Andrey Rublev celebrates after defeating Dominic Thiem of Austria during their fist round match at the 2023 Australian Open on Jan 17. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE - The 2020 finalist Dominic Thiem’s Australian Open ended in the first round on Tuesday, with the former world No. 3 crashing out to fifth seed Andrey Rublev in a setback on his return from injury.

While Russia’s Rublev held a clear advantage in terms of current ranking, Thiem had a far greater Grand Slam pedigree as the US Open champion in 2020. He is also a two-time finalist at Roland Garros.

But the Austrian, ranked 98th, was outplayed in 36 deg C heat as he continued his return from a wrist injury which kept him off court for nine months across the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

Rublev banked a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win on John Cain Arena – his first of the year after two defeats in warm-up events, with either Australia’s Max Purcell or Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori his next opponent.

“First of all I’m happy that I was able to get through in straight sets. It was super hot today so happy I can save some energy for future matches,” said Rublev, who reached the quarter-finals at Melbourne in 2021 and won four titles last year.

“When you play against Dominic, it’s never easy.

“We are really good friends and I know he is going through not easy times, so I just want to wish him all the best to come back at the same level that he belongs as fast as possible.”

Thiem has shown encouraging signs on his return to the tour, rising from outside the top 350 to breach the top 100 this year after semi-final runs last year at Gstaad, Gijon and Antwerp.

He said a rib problem hampered him against Rublev.

“It happened at one serve in the second set. The sun was – I was in a tough position to serve, so I completely changed the toss, and something happened after at the abs or at the ribs,” he said.

Despite the defeat, Thiem said he remained confident of getting back to his best.

“Yes, that’s the ultimate goal, and I hope that I can do it now during this season,” he said.

“This tournament doesn’t change anything because I just had a really tough opponent.”

It was a seventh meeting between the pair but their first at a Grand Slam, with Rublev now leading 5-2.

Play was set to resume on outside courts at the Australian Open following a three-hour delay after matches were halted due to extreme heat.

Austria's Dominic Thiem during his first-round match against Russia's Andrey Rublev at the Australian Open on Jan 17, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

With players sweltering, the tournament’s five-part heat stress scale hit five. The scale measures four climate factors – radiant heat (strength of the sun), air temperature in the shade, relative humidity and wind speed.

The lowest level reading is one and the highest five, at which point play is suspended and the roofs are closed on its three main stadiums – Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena and John Cain Arena.

Organisers said conditions had improved and play was set to resume at 5pm local time. AFP

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