Melbourne—World number five Dominic Thiem survived a five-set scare after being pushed hard by gutsy home hope Alex Bolt at the Australian Open Thursday.
The Austrian, targeting a maiden Grand Slam crown, looked fragile as the crowd got behind the wildcard but ultimately prevailed 6-2, 5-7, 6-7 (5/7), 6-1, 6-2 in 3hrs 22mins.
Thiem is among a clutch of players tipped to win a Major after reaching the last two Roland Garros finals, but he was exposed at times by a player ranked 140 who controlled much of the second and third sets.
“It was a tough match, Alex played great and he had the crowd support,” said Thiem, who has never gone past the fourth round in six previous attempts.
“But I also love to play in such a great atmosphere.”
He faces another tricky clash in the third round, against either American 29th seed Taylor Fritz or big-serving South African Kevin Anderson.
Thiem looked comfortable after racing through the opening set and was serving at 5-4 to go two sets in front.
But the crowd was roaring for Bolt and he remarkably broke, with the tide turning as he rallied to clinch the set 7-5.
The third set was a tight affair with neither player giving an inch. Thiem had an opportunity at 4-4 with two break points but he failed to convert.
The Austrian’s best efforts were being met with resistance, with Bolt saving another three break points on his next service game, leaving Thiem frustrated at his missed opportunities.
It went to a tiebreaker and Bolt raced into a 6-2 lead, but wobbled as Thiem won three points in a row before the Australian sent down a booming ace to got two sets to one in front.
However, Thiem recovered his composure and after a series of long baseline rallies broke twice to take the match into a deciding set.
The Austrian’s focus and fitness proved decisive in the fifth, with a Bolt forehand into the net giving him a break and he raced to victory as his opponent flagged.