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Tennis Report • Red Bull Got Thiem Wings And More • Action At the 2020 U.S.Open Tennis

Dominic Thiem, Red Bull gave him wings.

By Alix Ramsay

According to the advertising slogan, Red Bull gives you wings. According to the USTA, Red Bull gives them a headache. And according to Dominic Thiem, Red Bull and the USTA simply pisses him off.

The No.2 seed and world No.3 breezed past Sumit Nagal, the world No.124 from India, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 but only after he had had a bit of a caffeine boost from his favourite energy drink. The quiet and diligent Austrian is not known to have a wilder side (and, let’s face it, a can of Red Bull is hardly the same as night on the tequila slammers) but a bit of a kick up the nether regions from a soft drinks manufacturer has often helped him through a difficult moment.

Ordinarily, Nagal would have been qualifying material (or, on a bad day, qualifying fodder) but with no quallies this year and with a small herd of players refusing to make the trip to New York, Mr Nagal was straight into the main draw. And after a four set win over Bradley Klahn in the first round, he found himself on the Arthur Ashe Stadium facing the second favourite for the title.

“He’s very dangerous when he can dictate with his forehand,” Thiem said appreciatively after his two-hour workout. “I was exactly trying to avoid that.

Sumit Nagal of India hits a return to Dominic Thiem.

“He has also very, very fast legs. He’s moving around very quick on the court. I was trying to play my fastest tennis to keep him on the backhand, to not let him dictate with the forehand. I did that very well today.

“I think the only bad game he played was at 4-3 for me in the first set where he kind of came back into the match after he broke me, then he did some unforced errors. Beside of that, I think it was a good match on a quite good level. I’m happy to be through in straight sets, yeah.”

In order to keep body and soul as sharp as possible, Thiem asked for a can of his drink of choice to be brought to the court. But Red Bull is not an official sponsor of the tournament so it cannot be seen on court. What to do? Fine, bring me a plain cup and I’ll pour the drink into that. No can do came back the official word.

In order to keep the paying sponsors sweet, it was suggested that the drink be poured into the plain cup off-court and then brought to the world No.3. That’s when Thiem had a hissy fit – and, to be fair to Thiem, you could understand why.

“They wanted to go out with the open can and fill it in a plain cup without me observing it,” he said. “That’s what pissed me off a little bit because the anti-doping rules are so strict. I don’t want to lose the can out of my sight. In general, they are so strict rules these days, and they propose to fill the can in a plain cup without me observing it. That pissed me off a little bit.”

Given that a chap can’t nip to the gents without a complete stranger following him and observing what he does when he gets there, it did seem a little strange that Thiem was being asked to accept a cup of something – he knew not what – handed to him by a court official.

Thiem pours Red Bull into an unbranded cup.

In the end, a minion arrived with an unbranded cup, an unopened can and a towel, the latter being used to shield Thiem from the cameras as he opened one and poured its contents into the other. Either that or he was stripping down to his undies – it was hard to tell. Whatever was going on, he came through unscathed and now faces Marin Cilic who dropped a set 6-1 to the magnificently named Norbert Gombos before winning 6-3, 1-6, 7-6, 7-5.

Perhaps Milos Raonic could have done with a drop of the amber nectar on Thursday.

He came into the US Open as one of the form horses: the finalist at the Western and Southern Open, the man with the bazooka right arm who had served ballistic missiles all week as he made his way to Saturday’s showdown with Novak Djokovic. But then he ran into Djoko’s political ally, Vasek Pospisil, and it all went horribly wrong (Pospisil is in cahoots with Djoko in the setting up of their new players’ association). Raonic and his thunderbolt serve were walloped 6-7, 6-3, 7-6, 6-3.

At the start of last year, Pospisil was, on doctor’s orders, lying flat on his back while his friends and rivals got to work in the Australian sunshine. He had just had surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back, an injury that had plagued him for the previous four years, and he was pondering the long and laborious road back to fitness.

But come back he did, reaching the final in Montpellier in February this year (he lost to Gael Monfils) and inching his way back up the rankings. He is still, at No.94, far from his best (in 2014 he was the world No.25) but he is getting there.

Even so, when he won his first round match against Philipp Kohlschreiber, it was his first competitive outing in seven months. And, unsurprisingly, he felt a bit rusty before he started. But with one win under his belt and a deep knowledge of Raonic’s game, he got to work and grew in confidence with most every game.

“I just felt as the match went on, I felt a lot more comfortable, and I found a really good groove and I was moving really well,” Pospisil said.

“I mean, he’s serving incredibly well, but I felt like I got a relatively good read on his serve. Then the key for the match today on my end was that I was serving extremely well and able to hold my service games with relative comfort, which made it a little bit easier for the rest of the match.

“He’s just one of those guys that you can’t give him time. He has a very heavy ball, he’s a really big guy, and he’s got big strokes. If you can play quick, then that’s better.

“That’s easier said than done, because he obviously has a huge serve, and a lot of power. So it’s not always easy to accomplish that game plan, but I was able to do that today.”

He makes it sound so simple: Milos is a big bloke so just move him around a bit. Then again, he made it look pretty simple, too. But against Roberto Bautista Agut in the next round, life may become a lot more complicated.

Meanwhile, the women’s draw is falling apart quicker than a 1970s Lada on a bumpy road. After seven seeds from the top half of the draw departed in tears and a taxi yesterday, Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta, the No.10 and No.9 seeds respectively, followed them today.

Garbine Muguruza

The most impressive part of Muguruza’s match against Tsvetana Pironkova was the way she marmalised her racket at the end of the first set.

Having let slip a 5-3 lead to lose the first set 7-5, Muguruza flung her bat aside in disgust. She then picked it up and smacked it on the ground, breaking the head from the handle and leaving the Spaniard holding no more than a battered grip. “I guess I’m more stronger now,” she said after losing 7-5, 6-3. And then she was gone.

Johanna Konta

Konta kept her rackets intact but she could do nothing to stop the powerful, talented but unpredictable Sorana Cirstea from pounding her way to a 2-6, 7-6, 6-4 win.

Serena Williams reacts after defeating Margarita Gasparyan.

And Serena Williams got a fright as she faced Margarita Gasparyan. At a set to the good, she had the match on her racket – and then the Russian came back at her and it all got very tense. Williams survived 6-2, 6-4 but it took rather more than she bargained for in the second round. Now she faces Sloane Stephens and that might be a step too far for the former champion.