Can Thiem Turn Up The Heat At Home In ‘Domi Vs. Stef: Part III’?

Austrian seeks strong end to ‘inconsistent’ year
October 23, 2023
Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem's most recent Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting was at Wimbledon in July.
Corinne Dubreuil/ATP Tour
Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem's most recent Lexus ATP Head2Head meeting was at Wimbledon in July. By Andy West

Any time Dominic Thiem steps on court at the Erste Bank Open, the home crowd raises the volume inside the Wiener Stadthalle. That raucous atmosphere may hit new highs on Tuesday in Vienna, however, when the Austrian favourite takes on Stefanos Tsitsipas in a blockbuster first-round clash at the ATP 500.

“There are some sports where you play home games every second week and everybody's telling you about the advantages, about how much better you play at home,” Thiem told on Sunday in Vienna. “And it is like that, but as a tennis player, as an Austrian especially, you only have it two or three times a year. I always love it. The crowd gives me unbelievable energy.”

A clash between two former World No. 3s would be a much-anticipated opening round no matter when or where it takes place. The two Lexus ATP Head2Head meetings between Thiem and Tsitsipas that have taken place this year add an extra dimension to their Vienna clash.

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The 17-time tour-level champion Thiem, working hard to rediscover his mojo against the world’s best after a serious wrist injury he suffered in mid-2021, pushed Tsitsipas to deciding-set tie-breaks in Madrid and at Wimbledon this year. On each occasion it was the Greek who ultimately prevailed, and Thiem knows the margins could well be fine once again on Tuesday evening in Vienna.

“I guess the only thing which I'm thinking about is that when we're both playing well, the possibilities are high that we have another very close and tight match,” said Thiem, who is 5-5 overall in his rivalry with Tsitsipas. “I hope so because that would mean that we're playing well or that I'm playing well. It would mean a great match for the crowd as well.

“We had two matches this year, and twice it ended up being a deciding tie-break, as well as at the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals, which was on a similar surface as well, and indoors. Again, it was a deciding tie-break. It would be great, obviously, if it would be another match like this, but with a different outcome.”

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Unlike in Madrid and at Wimbledon, however, Thiem may have a secret weapon to help him get over the line on Tuesday against Tsitsipas. He does not have to look back far to remember the power of the Vienna crowd, which roared him to a remarkable first-round triumph after he saved two match points against Tommy Paul a year ago. Having missed the 2021 edition of the tournament as part of his nine-month absence due his wrist injury, that moment still stands out for the Austrian.

“That was a reminder of what I'm playing for and what I'm working hard for,” said Thiem. “Not only [during my] comeback, but if I look back at special matches in my whole career, this one is up there, 100 per cent.

“Honestly, I was the worse player the whole match, but with this amazing help from the crowd and with great luck and great fighting spirit, I was somehow able to win it and that was special. That's why it will always be up there somewhere when I look back on special matches.”

This year, Thiem arrived in Vienna with a 17-21 tour-level record for the season, a tally which includes a championship-match run at the only other Austrian ATP Tour event in Kitzbühel, and three other ATP 250 quarter-final appearances. Currently at No. 99 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings, Thiem’s relatively moderate year has not dampened his desire to push for a return to the upper echelons of the game. For him, it is not a question of regaining his previous level, but being able to produce it often enough.

“I had some positive weeks, like Kitzbühel, and some great matches as well, for example against Stef at Wimbledon or the US Open, where I played well," recalled Thiem. "So there were some good weeks and some good matches, but I was not able to do it often enough and that's why my ranking is where it is. It's not satisfying for me, and I have to play well, more consistently, to rise up again. That's the goal for the last three weeks and obviously also for the next year.

“For me it’s pretty clear [I’m lacking] consistency, because I had some good weeks. If I would have been able to repeat them more often, then my ranking would be way higher, but I was not. I guess that's that's the key point. That's what I was able to do before the injury, when I was very high in the rankings, and that's the goal, to get that back.”

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