ATP Rio: Dominic Thiem struggles vs. world no. 341 but stays on Roger Federer's trail

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ATP Rio: Dominic Thiem struggles vs. world no. 341 but stays on Roger Federer's trail

The first ATP 500 clay event of the season is up and running in Rio de Janeiro, with a solid field of players fighting for the title and 500 points. The champion from three years ago, world no. 4 Dominic Thiem is the main favorite, skipping the last week's ATP 250 tournament in Buenos Aires and returning to the court in Rio for the first time since the Australian Open final that he lost to Novak Djokovic in five sets.

Standing close to Roger Federer on the ATP ranking list, Dominic would pass the Swiss and become world no. 3 for the first time in a career if he reaches the semi-final in Brazil, eager to achieve another big feat after he almost lifted the first Major crown in Melbourne.

The Austrian had to work hard in the first match on Quadra Guga Kuerten, ousting world no. 341 Felipe Meligeni 6-2, 4-6, 6-1 in two hours and four minutes. Meligeni earned a wild card for the main draw and used it with both hands, taking the second set before Thiem raised his level to avoid a massive upset and the second consecutive first-round loss at this event.

Struggling a little bit with a left knee, Dominic hit 24 winners and 33 unforced errors, facing only one break chance in the entire clash and standing strong in the sets he won to seal the deal and book the place in the last 16.

The favorite made a convincing start, dropping six points behind the initial shot in the opener and seizing breaks in games six and eight for a 6-2 after 38 minutes. Meligeni sprayed a forehand error at 2-3 to suffer a break at love, falling a set down following another break for Thiem at 5-2.

Landing 80% of the first serve in, Meligeni played much better in set number two, fending off all three break chances and breaking Dominic at 3-3 following some impressive defense. The Brazilian repelled a break point with a beautiful forehand crosscourt winner in the next game, taking the set 6-4 when Thiem sent a forehand long to produce a decider.

With no room for errors, two-time Roland Garros champion restored the order and dominated to race towards the finish line, serving well in set number three and earning two quick breaks to make a winning start. Felipe landed a forehand long in game two to suffer a break, falling 4-0 behind and allowing Thiem to seal the deal with a volley winner in game seven.