One of the standout moments of this season so far has been Dominic Thiem winning at Indian Wells.
It was a real statement from him, declaring he is ready to compete at all levels. He played a great US Open last year where he had a terrific match with Rafael Nadal, pushing him to a fifth-set tiebreak in the quarterfinals. And now in a Masters final he’s outplayed Roger Federer – who was playing well.
When crunch time came in that Indian Wells final, from 3-3 in the third set, Thiem stepped up more than he ever has. He played and maintained a level that he hasn’t been able to before. We’ve seen him play well and get to the semis and final of the French Open. But he didn’t really look or play as if he believed he was going to win those big matches.
This is the first time we’ve seen him go: you know what? I’m going to stand up and actually play my best tennis and refuse to give in to reputation. This marks a momentous step forward mentally; perhaps for the first time in his career he is reaching his mental peak.
Physically he’s done an incredible job in building a base to give him the belief he can last with the best players. But truly believing that he could win is a different thing. He can now say to himself: I’ve done all the work, now I just need to stand and deliver. That comes with maturity and belief after a period of time; you come to believe you deserve it.
Technically and tactically, I’ve watched him be so one-dimensional for so long. In the Indian Wells final, he played his style, but he was more aggressive and assertive on key rallies than he normally is. He’d normally hit it hard but stay deep in the court and not force the play. But if he didn’t step up against Federer, Federer would take the court away from him. There seemed to be an awareness of that that I haven’t really seen from Thiem before. He’s going to have to be more tactically aware if he wants to take the next step – and perhaps that’s starting to kick in for him on the court.
A lot of commentary expressed surprised that Thiem could win big on hard court. But Indian Wells plays gritty, slowing the bounce but fast through the air – elements that are actually very similar to clay. Depending on where Nadal is physically, this sets Thiem up as the second favourite to win the French Open.
It’s now the time Thiem should start planning a better, less brutal playing schedule. Part of your development is to get the runs on the board and miles in the legs to be able to play at the level required, and to physically absorb that level. He’s done that; he’s played more tournaments and matches of any top player in recent years. If he’s smart, with the age he is, with the work he’s done, with the results he’s had and with what he’s capable of, he’s in a position where he can play less events and work out where he wants to peak throughout the season.
With that approach, he then becomes a potential Grand Slam winner. There have been times where he’s come into a Slam where he’s played a lot of tennis in the lead up, and surely the fuel tank has been only three-quarters, or even 50 per cent full. Other players have been better at managing that.
Yet I don’t think that’s an error in judgement up to this point – it’s been part of the preparation to get here and with smart schedule management from here, the future looks bright for Thiem.
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