Thiem Accomplished His Dream, Now He's Ready For More
After Thiem won the last point of a 2-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6(6) marathon against Alexander Zverev in New York, the first 10 seconds were pure relief before reality hit: he had accomplished his greatest dream. It would take some time for Thiem to adjust to his new status as he became a favourite at every tournament and the expectations became much greater.
“Until the start of the US Open, I would never expect to stand there at the end and lift the trophy," Thiem said.
It was the first US Open final to be decided by a fifth-set tie-break and made Thiem the first player in the Open Era to rally from two sets down in a US Open final. He also became the first men's singles Grand Slam champion born in the 1990s.
Now the World No. 4 is hungry for more. This week in Lyon at the Open Parc Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes-Lyon, he's the top seed and will pursue his 18th tour-level crown.
Also coming up is Roland Garros, where Thiem owns a 28-7 record with four of those losses coming against Rafael Nadal. Although he has yet to win a title in 2021, the Austrian will be keen for more success after a semi-final loss to Zverev in Monte-Carlo and a third-round exit to Lorenzo Sonego in Rome.
Raising the US Open trophy was a long time coming for Thiem. At the start of the 2020 season, he reached the Australian Open title match for his third Grand Slam final appearance following Roland Garros in 2018 and 2019. It would be his most competitive final to date as he had control of the clash against Novak Djokovic at Melbourne Park. Instead, Djokovic would come back from two sets to one for the first time in a major final to crush Thiem’s dreams 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.
“It was very, very difficult to digest because I was starting to doubt [myself] a little bit,” Thiem said. “And starting to imagine what I [would] think about my career if I never did it after having this great chance.”
The Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to any more opportunities and gave Thiem a lot of time to think. He put the disappointment behind him and focussed all of his energy on New York, but he got off to a rocky start with an opening-round loss to Filip Krajinovic at the Western & Southern Open, where he won just three games.
Bouncing back quickly at the US Open, Thiem picked up wins over Marin Cilic, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Alex de Minaur and Daniil Medvedev before meeting Zverev in the final. Nothing about the fortnight was normal, and Thiem called the New York bubble “a huge change for all players” as the biggest names in tennis competed without fans in the crowd.
“We were used to the packed stadium and then all of a sudden we lived the bubble life, we played in front of the empty stadium, especially in New York, it’s pretty tough,” Thiem said.
While the media touted Thiem as the favourite in the final against Zverev, nothing was guaranteed and the dramatic showdown would end in a fifth-set tie-break.
“I think everybody else declared me to be the favourite but me,” Thiem said. “I knew how good Sascha is and how difficult it is to play against him. The pressure was huge. I really thought this might be my final chance.”
But instead, Thiem is now in a position to chase more titles. His career may end up mapping out much like another one-handed backhand talent, Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss won his first Grand Slam at the 2014 Australian Open at the age of 29, and followed it up by winning Roland Garros in 2015 and the US Open in 2016.
Both Thiem and Wawrinka cracked the Top 10 in the FedEx ATP Rankings before the age of 24 and then took years to break through at the Grand Slam level. Thiem is hoping he can also add a few more Grand Slams.
“[Wawrinka] had five amazing years where he was playing well in all the big tournaments, winning two more majors,” Thiem said. “And that’s my goal, that I can use the huge boost that the US Open gave [me].”