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Dominic Thiem is the ninth player since 2009 to make their debut inside the Top 3 of the FedEx ATP Rankings.

Thiem's Time: Austrian Looks To Build On Top 3 Breakthrough

World No. 3 continues adding to his game

Dominic Thiem’s continued success at the most prestigious tour-level events made it a question of when, not if, he would crack the Top 3 of the FedEx ATP Rankings. Now that he’s broken up the ranking dominance of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer by deservedly making his Top 3 debut on 2 March, all eyes are on the Austrian as he looks to keep climbing.

Only nine players outside of the Big 3 have debuted in the Top 3 since May 2009. Six of them have held at least one Grand Slam title or a Nitto ATP Finals crown, with several using their ranking breakthrough as fuel to achieve their career-best results.

Top 3 Debuts Since May 2009

 

Date

Player

Grand Slam Titles

Nitto ATP Finals Titles

May 2009

A. Murray

3

1

July 2013

D. Ferrer

0

0

January 2014

S. Wawrinka

3

0

November 2016

M. Raonic

0

0

November 2017

A. Zverev

0

November 2017

G. Dimitrov

0

1

January 2018

M. Cilic

1

0

August 2018

J.M. del Potro

1

0

March 2020

D. Thiem

0

0

But Thiem’s current ranking is far more than a number next to his name. It’s a reflection of his willingness to evolve as a player and make bold changes to take his game to an even higher level.

After hiring former World No. 9 and 2004 Olympic gold medalist Nicolas Massu as his coach in February 2019, the pair went to work in making Thiem a more offensive player. While heavy topspin shots remained his weapon of choice, he began flattening his groundstrokes and attacking the net more frequently to shorten points. Thiem also began standing closer to the baseline on returns and took time away from his opponents.

“He started to show more versatility on the backhand,” observed former ATP Tour player and current tennis analyst Patrick McEnroe. "He uses the slice a lot more and I think he’s also taking it down the line a lot more and taking it earlier. He now has the ability to take the ball much closer to the baseline on both sides to finish points.

“One of the reasons Rafa is still so good is he’s figured out how to not have to stand six, eight feet behind the baseline and just run all day to win. He can do that if he has to. For Thiem moving forward, you want to be able to finish points and you want to be able to take time away from your opponent if you want to be able to continue to be successful… He is getting better at that.”

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Thiem continued to enjoy big results on clay last season, with his second Roland Garros final sandwiched between trophies in Barcelona and Kitzbühel. But the Austrian’s bolder brand of tennis has been most evident in his hard-court results over the past 12 months, shredding his reputation as a one-surface specialist.

In only his second tournament with Massu, he stunned fans last year by defeating Roger Federer in a three-set thriller to win his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells. Although Thiem was delighted with his breakthrough, he admitted to being even more proud of his hard-court run to end 2019. He grabbed titles in Beijing and Vienna before falling to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a third-set tie-break in the title match at the Nitto ATP Finals in London.

”Indian Wells, honestly, it’s a very slow hard court. It suits my game because it’s almost like a clay court,” Thiem said after the London final. “But here or in Vienna, Beijing, Shanghai, where I played really great tennis, they were surfaces where I was struggling big time in the past. Even though it's a big and tough loss today, I still have in my head that I developed my game very good since a few months [ago].”

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He inched even closer to Grand Slam glory with a runner-up showing this year at the Australian Open. Thiem scored his first win at a major against Nadal in the quarter-finals before losing to Djokovic in an epic five-set final.

The Austrian knows he'll likely need to defeat more than one member of the Big Three in order to secure his first major trophy. But in typical Thiem fashion, he's not hoping for a draw where top seeds succumb to upsets. It's a challenge he embraces and is determined to overcome.

“These guys brought tennis to a complete new level. They also brought me probably to a much better level,” Thiem said after his Melbourne defeat to Djokovic. “It was easier for sure in a different era to win big titles, that's 100 per cent. But I'm happy I can compete with these guys on the best level. I really also hope that I win my maiden Slam when they're still around, because it just counts more.”

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