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PARIS (AP) — Dominic Thiem wants one thing and one thing only right now: To go one step further than he did last year when he reached the final at Roland Garros.
"Dominic has a chance to win the French Open for sure, one day," his coach, Nicolas Massu, said in an interview. "I hope that this year it happens."
While he dropped a set for the third straight match, Thiem showed more flashes of his dominant clay-court game in a 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 win over Pablo Cuevas on Saturday to advance to the fourth round.
"It was my best match so far," Thiem said. "Not at all perfect yet, but the best so far."
For a spot in the quarterfinals, Thiem will face Gael Monfils and likely a partisan crowd, too, against the French player.
The other fourth-round matchups set Saturday: top-seeded Novak Djokovic vs. Jan-Lennard Struff; No. 5 Alexander Zverev vs. No. 9 Fabio Fognini; No. 8 Juan Martin del Potro vs. No. 10 Karen Khachanov; and No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. No. 24 Stan Wawrinka, the 2015 champion.
All top 10 men's seeds are in the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since the 1970 Australian Open.
When Massu looks at Thiem's game it feels a bit like staring in the mirror. Massu used a similar style in winning gold medals in both singles and doubles at the 2004 Athens Olympics. There's the big kick serve out wide, the heavy topspin, running around the backhand.
"Many of the things that Dominic does today I was doing also, years before," said Massu, who started working with Thiem this year. "Same ideas. So I understand what he wants."
Massu made an immediate impact on Thiem's game when he guided him to his first Masters series title in Indian Wells, California, in March — which was surprising because until then Thiem's best results had come on clay.
Thiem reached the semifinals at the French in 2016 and 2017 before losing to Rafael Nadal in last year's final. He also has four career wins at other tournaments over Nadal, the 11-time Roland Garros champion.
Massu understands the expectations surrounding his pupil.
"It's normal that they put the name of Dominic (as) one of the favorite players, because of the results that he had in the past," Massu said.
Thiem, however, is becoming quite comfortable in Paris, where he also reached the final of the boys' tournament in 2011.
"Eight years ago when I made the final of the juniors I fell in love with this tournament," Thiem told the crowd after beating Cuevas.
Then Thiem, who is dating French player Kristina Mladenovic, entertained the crowd inside Court Suzanne Lenglen with a few words in French, apologizing for his beginners' grasp of the language.
At 25, Thiem has plenty of time to learn.
"When you are 25 years old you are not even in the (halfway point) of your career," Massu said. "The good thing about Dominic (is) he has the time."
Already up to No. 4 in the rankings, Thiem sits behind only Djokovic and Nadal, who are both 32, and Roger Federer, who is 37.
"He knows that he has the chance one day to be No. 1 in the world," Massu said. "You never know when — maybe soon, maybe later — but he works for that."
A trophy in Paris would be a big step toward the top.
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