Dominic Thiem in 2020: Long-awaited first major title

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After losing his first three Grand Slam finals, Dominic Thiem landed his maiden major in dramatic circumstances at the US Open.

Dominic Thiem joked ahead of the US Open final that he would call Andy Murray if he lost. He had fallen in all three of his previous Grand Slam finals and another reverse would have tied him with the Scot, who went 0-4 prior to ending his drought.

Thiem ultimately didn’t need to make that call after beating Alexander Zverev, and as one of the most popular players among his peers and fans alike, almost everyone was happy for the Austrian — including Rafael Nadal.

“If somebody deserves to win a big title, it’s him,” said Nadal. “Super hard worker. Very focused on his goals. Good person. Good human person. He deserved it.”

  • Ranking at end of 2019: 4
  • Ranking at end of 2020: 3
  • 2020 win/loss: 25-9

Best performance: Breakthrough major

The US Open marked Thiem’s apex in 2020. Yet it was a cautious start to the fortnight, which can be the case for many top players, and especially for Thiem after his shaky buildup. Thiem was stretched to a first-set tiebreak against a player Nadal mentors, Jaume Munar, and needed more than one hour to claim the opener. But Munar eventually retired after trailing by two sets and Thiem only lost one set — to former US Open champ Marin Cilic — en route to the final.

In terms of quality, the final certainly wasn’t vintage; nowhere near the level of Nadal and Daniil Medvedev a year earlier. It didn’t lack in drama, however. Visibly nervous in the first two sets — something he confirmed afterward — Thiem loosened up in the third and fourth sets to prompt a fifth. The seesaw decider saw both men unable to serve out the championship prior to Thiem prevailing in the tournament’s first ever fifth-set tiebreak in the final, despite suffering from cramps. He also became the first player since 1949 to win the men’s final at the US Open after dropping the opening two frames.

Best Grand Slam result: US Open winner, Melbourne finalist

Nothing will match his result at the US Open but seven months earlier Thiem came agonisingly close to winning his first major at the Australian Open.

Leading Novak Djokovic two sets to one, the world No 1 stormed back to continue his dominant reign in Melbourne.

Thiem’s mental and physical exertions at the US Open took a toll at Roland-Garros, which began in this unique year after New York and only two weeks later. He barely hit on the clay ahead of the tournament.

So it was commendable that Thiem not only outlasted French wildcard Hugo Gaston in five sets in the fourth round — chasing drop shots aplenty — but that he took Diego Schwartzman to five sets and five hours in the quarter-finals in what was a contender for match of the season.

Titles: 1 – The big one in New York

There was one title for Thiem in 2020, compared to five in 2019. Of course, the coronavirus pandemic greatly limited the number of events on offer.

But, obviously, that one title wasn’t just any title.

Low point: US Open’s eve

Based on what happened on the eve of the US Open, it would have been bold to pick Thiem as the champion in New York. Don’t forget that back in August, Novak Djokovic hadn’t lost a match all season.

And there was also Thiem’s own performance at the Western & Southern Open, which was played at the US Open venue as part of the USTA’s bubble during the pandemic.

He lost his lone encounter to Filip Krajinovic in an hour (6-2, 6-1), not manufacturing a break point and winning a mere two of 34 return points. Fortunately for Thiem, he turned it all around at the US Open.

He also lost to then-world No 138 Gianluca Mager in the quarter-finals on clay in Rio in February, although it was his first tournament since the crushing defeat to Djokovic in Melbourne.

On social media: Knighting Hugo Gaston

Off court: Environmental issues and controversial statements

Thiem raises awareness about environmental issues and supports 4ocean, he told the ATP last year. It aims to clean up and preserve the world’s oceans. He writes messages on the TV cameras about those endeavors after he wins matches.

On the controversial side of things, Thiem weighed in on the subject of ATP prize-money distribution earlier this year. During the coronavirus hiatus this spring, the Big 3 discussed the possibility of setting up a fund to help lower-ranked players who obviously don’t earn as much money. The Austrian was not in favor of contributing to it.

“Quite honestly I have to say that no tennis player will be fighting to survive, even those who are much lower-ranked. None of them are going to starve. I wouldn’t really see why I should give such players money. I would rather give money to people or organisations that really need it.”

Self assessment: Looking upwards

Even though he lost in the final of the Nitto ATP Finals, Thiem was unsurprisingly satisfied with his 2020.

And he doesn’t want to stop there. Thiem ended the season only 725 points behind No 2 Nadal in the rankings.

“Of course I want to climb up the rankings,” he said. “I mean, this year and also year has been amazing. I was playing great and had deep runs in many, many big tournaments. That’s what I want to do as well next year, and if I’m able to do that, I think I will also get chances to climb the rankings.”

Dominic Thiem

Tennis Majors Assessment

Thiem became only the third men’s player outside the Big Four in the last 10 years to nab a major, showing just how difficult the task has been to loosen the grip of Djokovic, Nadal, Roger Federer and, prior to his hip issues, Andy Murray.

The huge reason Thiem hasn’t won at Roland-Garros comes courtesy of Nadal so clay still might be his best surface. But one could argue that he is now the world’s top men’s hardcourt player.

Thiem has never beaten Djokovic or Nadal in a Grand Slam final but that might be around the corner for a few reasons. His own play and their age among them.

For now in tennis’ off-season, Thiem can enjoy the Grand Slam title he so richly deserved.

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