She is the most successful Austrian tennis player to date. Barbara Schett talks to Chillreport about her compatriot Dominic Thiem’s victory at the US Open and the Germans’ chances in Paris.
The French Open in Paris starts today, Sunday. Also present as moderator and expert for Eurosport: Barbara Schett. In the late 1990s, she was one of the best tennis players in the world. In September 1999, the now 44-year-old was number seven in the world ranking.
Barbara Schett: The former tennis player and current Eurosport expert is not moderating from Paris this year because of the corona pandemic. (Source: Eurosport / Image Images)
One of her compatriots is currently at the center of the tennis world. Dominic Thiem became the first Austrian to win the US Open individually in mid-September – and the first Austrian since Thomas Muster to win another Grand Slam final in 1995.
25 years later, Thiem wants to do the same and after the last failures in 2018 and 2019 finally also at the French Open in Paris (click here for the news blog) triumph.
What are his odds? Can he break Rafael Nadal’s eternal dominance? And what role will Alexander Zverev and Angelique Kerber play? Prior to the tournament, Chillreport spoke with current Eurosport expert Barbara Schett.
Chillreport: Ms. Schett, Dominic Thiem is coming to the French Open as the reigning US Open winner. What are his odds of winning the tournament?
Barbara Schett (44): The latest victory in New York was extremely important to his confidence. It was already his fourth Grand Slam final. If he had lost that, it wouldn’t have been psychologically optimal. The main question is how he recovered from New York and whether he can make the switch to sand. But he loves the toppings and has the class to adapt.
With his triumph, he has certainly made it to the top of the world – if he hasn’t been there yet. Is there actually a tennis hype in Austria?
That has become clear in recent years. I would say Thiem caused a tennis boom in Austria. It cannot be compared with the times Thomas Muster won the French Open. Yet a huge number of children reach for the tennis racket. Even people who have nothing to do with tennis know who Dominic Thiem is. I am very happy that we can ride this success wave with Dominic in Austria. It is noticeable that everyone is talking about tennis.
Thomas Muster: The Austrian won the French Open in 1995. (Source: Claus Bergmann / image images)
Thiem’s opponent in the US Open final was German Alexander Zverev. What do you think he can do in Paris?
The last defeat must have been very disappointing for him, he led with two sets and a break. Losing a game like that: it gnaws at you. But Zverev has shown that he can beat anyone. The mental burden to end such a game is simply very great. But it was his first Grand Slam final. He has come of age again in New York and has certainly learned a lot this year. It’s only a matter of time before he wins his first Grand Slam title.
Is he already a star to you, or is he more of the talent that wants to grow to the top of the world?
Zverev is considered a star in tennis. The voices that he is grumpy and aloof are still there. To me he is a great personality who sometimes polarizes people. People like him or people don’t like him. He still has a lot to do in his young career.
His public image was not always the best.
The German press is very hard on you. I think it would be a shame if he were portrayed as a loser if he didn’t keep winning the finals. I think of him as a tennis star on his way to the top. It is important to him that at the moment of success he finds the right way to deal with it.
Alexander Zverev (left) and Dominic Thiem: The German lost to the Austrian in the final of the US Open after five sets. (Source: Danielle Parhizkaran / Image Images)
Let’s go to the ladies. What are the odds of the best German player Angelique Kerber?
Everyone knows that sand is not his favorite surface. I would be very surprised if she made it past the quarter-finals. The balls are a bit heavier at the French Open this year, so the game automatically slows down – she doesn’t really like that at all. Even if that sounds a bit harsh, I wouldn’t put my money on it.
Who is your favorite among women?
After her victory in Rome, Simona Halep should certainly be named first. She feels most comfortable on the surface and is the most constant of all players. Karolina Pliskova is also longing for her first Grand Slam title. Naomi Osaka isn’t here, but I don’t think she would have won the tournament anyway.
What about Serena Williams? It still ranks at 23 Grand Slam titles. As much as Steffi Graf.
It will be extremely difficult for them. The more Grand Slams she plays, the more I get the feeling it probably isn’t enough for the really big title any longer.
The conditions in Paris are special, the number of infected people has increased again and again in recent days. Is it still okay to keep the tournament in front of fans?
First of all, it makes a huge difference whether there are 200, 2,000 or 10,000 spectators. The player benefits from the audience, because that creates atmosphere. So I think it is good that there will be spectators in Paris. But first of all is the safety of the players. I assume this is guaranteed.
Barbara Schett: The Austrian moderates the French Open from the “Cube” in London. (Source: Eurosport)
How difficult is it for the players to deal with the local conditions?
The players are insanely limited, as I saw at the ATP tournament in Hamburg last week. But players don’t like to be limited. They really enjoy doing what they want and are very selfish (laughs). You spend an incredible amount of time in the hotel, you can’t just get out of your bubble and have some food. The focus is on security. You must not take any risk to endanger the tour.
Whatever stress means is the tests. Constantly waiting for a negative test result is very nerve-racking, for the people on the spot but especially for the players who have to play a tournament. This does not leave them without a trace and is a psychological burden. I am very curious how, for example, Rafael Nadal deals with all limitations.
Why are you curious about him?
There are such and such players, some can take advantage of the special conditions. But Rafa always has its annual routine, its fixed processes. These are now broken. He can no longer go to his favorite restaurant, but has to stay in the official areas. Plus the new balls, the cooler temperature in the fall. I am curious how and if he will store it. Yet he remains the big favorite.