Dominic Thiem is the World No. 8 as per the February 20th ATP rankings. However, the Austrian will need to play some sharp tennis in the week ahead in order to protect his ranking. Last season, Thiem enjoyed a ton of success at about this time of year on tour. Now, he needs to duplicate those efforts or else he will be at risk of a ranking slide.

Thiem's results from 2016

At about this time last season Thiem won ATP Buenos Aires, he made the semifinals in rio, and he won ATP Acapulco. Those efforts and results brought him 930 ranking points, some of which have already gone undefended.

If the Austrian is not sharp in the Rio draw this week then there are scenarios where he falls outside of the top ten on tour.

The draw in Rio is a 32-player five-round draw and Thiem enters the tournament fairly well rested. He was active in the Rotterdam draw last week, but he only made the quarterfinals. That being the case he only played three matches before losing to World No. 109 Pierre-Hugues Herbert.

In Rio, Thiem has a very talented player in the opening round to compete against, however it's also a player whose best tennis seems to be ancient history. Thiem will open his tournament against a former top tenner, Janko Tipsarevic. Ahead of the final, the Austrian could play both of Paolo Lorenzi and Albert Ramos-Vinolas.

The latter was in the 2016 French Open quarterfinals just last season and that makes him a dangerous player on the clay-court surface.

Clay is Thiem's best surface

However, ATP Rio is noteworthy as it is one of the most prestigious clay-court events to be played on tour in the first few months of the season. The ATP Tour definitely favors the hard-court surface, one that Thiem sometimes struggles on.

The loss in Rotterdam is certainly a case in point for those struggles: Thiem fell to the World No. 109 on the hard-court surface and it wasn't a huge shock. However, if Thiem, who made the French Open semifinals, suffered a similar loss on clay then it would definitely be a major upset.

Kei Nishikori is also in the Rio draw, the only player in the tournament with a higher ranking than Thiem.

Nishikori does have a tricky draw, however, as he faces Thomaz Bellucci in the first round. Nishikori enjoyed some success in Buenos Aires last week before losing to Alexandr Dolgopolov in the clay-court final on Sunday. Dolgopolov is also in Rio as is David Ferrer. The final for the tournament will be played on February 26th with Thiem the player most likely to make the event's final.