Dominic Thiem survives scare in Brisbane International qualifying and brush with snake

Austrian battles past local youngster James McCabe on Saturday

Dominic Thiem during the a qualifying round match of Brisbane International. EPA
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Former US Open champion Dominic Thiem had a day he will not forget as he fought for victory in the qualifying round of Brisbane International on Saturday, and also had a brush with one of Australia's most venomous snakes.

Thiem lost the opening set of his qualifying clash against Australian youngster James McCabe before fans spotted a snake near the courtside electrical wires, prompting officials to call in security staff and stop play.

A professional was brought in to catch the reptile, which local media identified as a deadly eastern brown snake, holding up play for 40 minutes.

"I really love animals, especially exotic ones," Thiem said. "But they said it was a really poisonous snake and it was close to the ballkids, so it was a really dangerous situation.

"It's something that has never happened to me and is something I'll definitely never forget," the former world No3 told reporters after the match.

Thiem was not yet out of danger as he had to save three match points before leveling the match by winning the second set tiebreak. The 30-year-old then went on to clinch the deciding set for a 2-6, 7-6 (4), 6-4 win.

The Austrian, currently ranked No98 after several years with a troublesome wrist injury, will face Giulio Zeppieri in the final qualifying round.

Thiem reached the final of the Australian Open in 2020 when he pushed champion Novak Djokovic to five sets, and won the US Open later that year.

Meanwhile, Aryna Sabalenka admitted she was feeling the pressure after a breakthrough 2023 saw her claim a maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open.

The Belarusian, 25, also finished runner-up at the US Open and made the semi-finals of Wimbledon and Roland Garros on her way to becoming world No1.

Currently ranked second in the world behind Poland's Iga Swiatek, Sabalenka is top seed at the season-opening Brisbane International, which begins on Sunday.

She said she had been working hard during the off-season in a bid to become the first woman to win successive Australian Opens since countrywoman Victoria Azarenka in 2012 and 2013.

"Last year I did an amazing job, it wasn't easy to do," Sabalenka said.

"It's not going to be easy this season. Just having this kind of thought in the background of your mind, actually having a title to defend, makes it actually not easy.

"I'm trying not to put pressure on myself. I'm just trying to prepare myself as good as I can -- it's not an easy thing to do, especially with the Grand Slams."

Updated: December 30, 2023, 3:12 PM