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So far in his career, Dominic Thiem has been defined principally by his steady progress. But now, heading into the US Open final, he has reached a decisive crossroads. He has played three Grand Slam finals already, two at Roland Garros and one at the Australian Open, but he has never before arrived at a Major final as the more experienced player and the heavy favourite. For the first time, when he steps on to court to face Alexander Zverev, the weight of expectation will rest on his shoulders.
But will he allow it to weigh him down? Will he freeze when confronted with the scale of the opportunity before him? It seems unlikely. Thiem has committed himself to excellence with a ferocious determination and he has reaped the rewards so far at the US Open this year. Whilst success early in his career was limited to his preferred clay, over the past two years Thiem has established himself as a force to be reckoned with on hard courts as well as the ‘terre battue’.
That much is evident looking at his results over the past two years. In 2019, he won titles in Indian Wells and Vienna, as well as making it to the final at the O2 during the season-ending championships, beating Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in the round robin. Barely two months later, Thiem reached the Australian Open final, as mentioned above, having beaten Rafael Nadal in four sets in the quarterfinals, only to fall just short against Djokovic in five sets.
It is hard to see Zverev denying Thiem in similar fashion. Make no mistake, the German is a fine player, with one of the best backhands in the men’s game and surprising speed around the court. He has also shown commendable grit and determination to seize the opportunity presented by Djokovic’s default in the fourth round, with the great Serbian in his half of the draw, not least in battling past Pablo Carreno Busta in the semifinal from two sets to love down.
But Thiem, tellingly, has not yet dropped a set so far in New York. That is despite arriving at the US Open having been thrashed by Filip Krajinovic in the second round at the Cincinnati Masters, a match in which he won only three games. Thiem’s victory in the semifinals was particularly impressive as he ousted 2019 US Open finalist Daniil Medvedev 6-2 7-6 7-6, rallying from a break down in both the second and third sets to get the better of the Russian.
There are few players who could have hit through the Russian as Thiem did. But the Austrian, like Juan Martin del Potro and Stan Wawrinka before him, is a player with such power and sufficient control that he can wear down even the best defenders, pulling them from pillar to post before putting them in the dust with one mighty blow, usually from the forehand wing. There may be little subtlety to that approach, but it is rather awe-inspiring to watch and almost impossible to overcome.
In short, Thiem seems ready to win his first Major title. He has worked hard and he has worked smart, notably replacing his long-time coach Gunter Bresnik with the Chilean former-Olympic gold medallist Nicolas Massu in a bid to add the incremental improvements required to take him one step closer to greatness. The partnership has been a successful one thus far and Thiem now stands only one step away from fulfilling it’s most important aim.
Will that be a victory for the NextGen? A mark that at last the guard is changing? Probably not. It is worth noting, after all, that Thiem is now 27, entering the best years of his career, but hardly a newcomer on the ATP Tour. It would also be no surprise to see the player he beat in the semifinals and the man he is set to face in the final go on to win more Grand Slams than him, even if he emerges triumphant in New York on Sunday.
But for Thiem, that surely will not matter. This is his moment. Expect him to seize it with both hands.
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