Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Novak Djokovic congratulated Dominic Thiem on his run to the Australian Open final, the sombre and pensive Austrian kept gazing down during the presentation ceremony in Melbourne on Sunday evening.
Stroking back his blonde streaked hair, Thiem acknowledged Djokovic when the winner said, “You were very close to winning it. You definitely have a lot more time in your career and I am sure you will get more than one Grand Slam trophy.”
The 26-year-old was close to a Major win indeed. Leading 4-6, 6-4, 6-2, Thiem had to close out just one set in his favour but the experience and class of Djokovic came into play and the Serb staged a gutsy comeback to win the next two sets 6-3, 6-4 and pocket his 17th Slam.
But Thiem proved a point, having reached three Slam finals in as many years, every year going a step further. He lost to Rafael Nadal in three sets in the 2018 French Open final but pushed the Spaniard to four sets a year later on the Parisian clay.
On Sunday, Thiem pushed himself even further when he took Djokovic—who was annointed world No. 1 on Monday—to the deciding set in a hard court Grand Slam, something he had never achieved before. His best before that was a quarter-final appearance at the 2018 US Open.
It has been a long journey for the world No. 4 who used to exit Grand Slams in the early rounds not so long ago.
Clay being his preferred surface, Thiem has reached the semi-finals (2016 and 2017) and finals (2018 and 2019) of the French Open for four back-to-back years. But it was last year that Thiem’s performance really had an upswing, especially on hard courts with his winning the Indian Wells Masters—he beat Federer in the final—and also reaching the summit clash of the ATP Finals. Two months later, he was playing his first hard court Grand Slam final and was almost on the verge of winning.
Part of the next generation, also comprising Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Thiem as on date appears the best bet and the most dangerous to break the dominance of the Big Three— Federer, Nadal and Djokovic with a much improved hard court game.
Federer, Nadal and Djokovic have won the last 13 Grand Slam titles in a row. And if you take it back to 2003, the Big Three account for 56 of the last 67.
Significantly, the Austrian has regularly defeated the Big Three on the ATP Tour and in Grand Slams too, including his four-set win over top seed Nadal in the quarter-finals last week. He has a 5-2 record against Federer and has a 4-2 edge over Djokovic in their last six meetings.
While Djokovic, with 17 Slams, is aiming to reach Federer (20) and Nadal (19), Thiem is determined to break the Big Three’s domination, something he is convinced he can achieve. “These guys have brought tennis to a complete new level,” Thiem said on Sunday. “I really hope also that I win my maiden Slam when they’re still around because it just counts more.”
And who would doubt it? Thiem is supremely fit, is a quick mover on the court, has a powerful forehand and his one-handed backhand generates a heavy amount spin.
“It takes nothing more than just little bit of luck, little details here and there. Maybe if I converted the break point in the fourth set, maybe I’m sitting here as a winner. Me and also the other young players have definitely the potential to win a Slam.” he said.
“I’m very aware and sure now that I can play on a very high level for a full Grand Slam. It makes me very confident for the next big tournaments which are coming up.”
Now with his favoured clay season starting soon and the French Open looming, who’s willing to bet against Thiem?
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