Thiem: ‘We Always Have To Beat All These Unbelievable Legends’
Dominic Thiem has already enjoyed two shots at Grand Slam glory, at Roland Garros in 2018 and 2019. Now, after battling past 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev in four sets on Friday evening, the Austrian superstar will get his chance at the Australian Open trophy.
But in his way stands as difficult of an obstacle as you’ll find in tennis: seven-time champion Novak Djokovic in Melbourne.
“We are playing in tough times, [we] young players. We always have to beat all these unbelievable legends. But I think it's a complete different situation,” Thiem said. “Rafa won Paris 12 times, Nole here seven times. That's [an] unbelievable achievement. But I try to take my experience that I made in the past two major finals and try to improve myself even more. I think I did that from '18 to '19 in Paris, and I tried to improve even more now.
“In this one I have the feeling that I have great experience now. I'm feeling that I can really keep up my level for all the two weeks, which was not the case maybe in my first Roland Garros final. So that's what I'm taking, [and I’m going to] try to be in the zone straightaway on Sunday night.”
At last year’s Australian Open, Thiem was upset in the second round. At the time, he was known for his success on clay. But two months later at Indian Wells, Thiem broke through for his first ATP Masters 1000 title — perhaps surprisingly, on hard courts — and from there, he has become a force on hard, too. Three of his five titles in 2019 came on the surface (Indian Wells, Vienna, Beijing), and he finished the year by reaching the championship match at the Nitto ATP Finals, which is also on hard.
“Indian Wells, that victory gave me so much relief and so much confidence because [I] finally got my first Masters 1000 title on hard court,” Thiem said. “Then I think last fall in Asia, then in the indoor season, I made this huge step forward. I really developed my game I think in the right direction. I got more aggressive on hard courts, started to serve smarter and to return better. That also gave me a lot of confidence for this new year and for Australia because I told myself, ‘If I can be in the finals in London, the [Nitto] ATP Finals, why not as well in a hard-court Slam?’ Since then I know that I'm also playing very well on the faster surfaces.”
Djokovic is on a roll, winning 16 consecutive sets dating back to the fourth set of his first-round win against German Jan-Lennard Struff. Thiem, however, has had to battle this fortnight, going five sets in the second round against Alex Bolt, four hours and 10 minutes against top seed Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals and three hours and 42 minutes against Zverev in the last four.
“With all the adrenaline and everything, it's going to be fine. I played two super-intense matches against Rafa and now against Sascha. So of course I'm going to feel it, especially tomorrow,” Thiem said. “But I’m going to have great treatment, an easy hit tomorrow, and then of course try everything to be 100 per cent on Sunday night.”
Thiem showed some of his best form to defeat Nadal on Wednesday, winning three tie-breaks under pressure against the Spanish legend. And he did not suffer a letdown against Zverev, rallying after dropping the first set and going after his shots when it mattered most.
“I had big issues with that two, three years ago, when I was beating a big guy. Almost all the time I lost my next match. But with experience and with more times when you are facing that situation, it got better,” Thiem said. “Today in the beginning, I had some troubles. I was not in the zone straightaway in the match like against Rafa. It took a while, maybe 20, 30 minutes. But I think that's normal. You just have to fight through and stay full in the match.”
Thiem lost his first five ATP Head2Head meetings against Djokovic, winning just one set in those matches. But he has won four of their five clashes since, including a victory at last year’s Nitto ATP Finals.
“I won more of the last encounters than he did. But I think it doesn't count so much. It's absolutely his comfort zone here. He always plays his best tennis in Australia since many, many years. So I'm expecting that as well in the final,” Thiem said. “All I can do is my best again, playing great tennis again, and of course take a look at the past matches we had as well in Paris and also London, try to repeat the good stuff that I did there.”
Thiem knows that history is on Djokovic’s side in Melbourne, where the Serbian has never lost from the semi-finals on. But the World No. 5 carries good form and a dangerous game into the championship match.
“For sure he's the favourite. I mean, he’s won seven titles here, never lost a final, going for his eighth one,” Thiem said. “I'm feeling good on the court. I'm playing great tennis. So [I’ll] try to be at my absolute best on Sunday.”