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Charting the ascent of the newest World No. 3 Dominic Thiem

  • Here's a look at how Thiem managed to upstage Roger Federer from the No. 3 position.
Modified 03 Mar 2020, 15:51 IST

Dominic Thiem.
Dominic Thiem.

For large swathes of his career, Dominic Thiem was regarded as a claycourt specialist. His prowess on the surface, where he won 8 of his 11 career titles heading into 2019 Indian Wells, was unmistakable.

Thwarted twice in his previous Masters 1000 finals - at 2017 Madrid and 2018 Rome by Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev respectively - Thiem reached his third final in the tournament category at Indian Wells. And it looked like the Austrian was set for more heartbreak when Roger Federer took the opening set in just over half an hour.

However, a determined Thiem fought back to restore parity and force a third. The Austrian then broke decisively in the 11th game and promptly served out the win to register his maiden Masters 1000 title at the third time of asking.

Thiem made his Masters 1000 breakthrough at 2019 Indian Wells
Thiem made his Masters 1000 breakthrough at 2019 Indian Wells

The triumph sparked Thiem on to sustained success on the surface, while retaining his level of play on his preferred clay - where he won Barcelona and saved a match point before beating Federer in the 2019 Madrid quarterfinals. Weeks later, Thiem downed Novak Djokovic in a five-set semifinal and took a set off Nadal before falling to a defeat in his second consecutive Roland Garros final.

First round exits at Wimbledon and the US Open notwithstanding, Thiem won at his hometown tournament of Kitzbuhel for the first time. He then lifted ATP 500 hardcourt titles at Beijing and Vienna, which marked the first time the Austrian won multiple hardcourt titles in a season.

Qualifying for the season-ending ATP Finals for the fourth consecutive year, Thiem became the first player after Alexander Zverev to beat Federer and Djokovic at the tournament. In the process, Thiem became the only player in 2019 to beat Federer (3) and Djokovic (2) multiple times.

In a battle of single-handed backhands in the final, Thiem took the opening set. However, he lost the second and eventually went down in a final set tiebreak to the young Greek.

Nitto ATP Finals - Day Eight
Nitto ATP Finals - Day Eight

Although Thiem went 1-2 for Team Austria at the inaugural 2020 ATP Cup, he registered his first Grand Slam match win over Nadal by in a hard-fought four-set Australian Open quarterfinal which featured three tiebreaks.

In his third Grand Slam final, and first at the Australian Open, Thiem moved to within three games of his maiden Major breakthrough before Djokovic recovered to take the win in five.

Following defending champion Federer's withdrawal from the 2020 Dubai Open, Thiem usurped the Swiss maestro to become the newest player to rise to the top 3 of the world rankings. The three players to do so before Thiem - Juan Martin Del Potro, Grigor Dimitrov, and Marin Cilic - each failed to break into the top 2, but the Austrian could be made of sterner stuff.

Equipped with an all-court game which has enabled him to beat the Big 3 of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic on both clay and hardcourt, Thiem could be poised for even greater heights in 2020. His biggest target would be breaching Nadal's Roland Garros bastion and becoming the first 'new' Grand Slam champion since Marin Cilic at the 2014 US Open.

For now, Thiem would strive to become the first player after Djokovic (2016) to successfully defend his Indian Wells title.

Published 03 Mar 2020, 15:51 IST
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