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Winning a Slam is worth more to me than being World No. 1, says Dominic Thiem

Dominic Thiem poses with the 2020 USO trophy
Dominic Thiem poses with the 2020 USO trophy
Rudra Biswas
ANALYST
Modified 18 Sep 2020, 13:38 IST
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On Sunday, World No. 3 Dominic Thiem won his first Grand Slam title at the US Open after a titanic battle with his good friend Alexander Zverev. Thiem had fallen two sets down as he encountered a serious case of nerves, but he was able to make a stunning comeback and win the championship match in a winner-takes-all tiebreak.

Speaking on a Sports Illustrated podcast after his triumph, Dominic Thiem revealed the full extent of the jitters he experienced in the final. Thiem also shed light on his outlook towards the fourth Major final of his career after having lost the previous three, and how much the final step meant to him.

"Way too tight, my arms were heavy" - Dominic Thiem on his nerves during the final

Dominic Thiem overcame the nerves to win his maiden Slam title
Dominic Thiem overcame the nerves to win his maiden Slam title

Dominic Thiem found himself in a hole at the beginning of the final, as his opponent and first-time Major finalist Alexander Zverev played some assertive tennis to win the first two sets. Thiem looked sluggish and even a bit injured for much of the match, but the Austrian explained that his problems were entirely mental.

"Usually most of the times I find the perfect mix between too nervous and not nervous at all," Thiem said. "I was feeling very good in the warm-up, was hitting the ball very clean, very good. Physically I was 100 per cent fine at the beginning of the match. I didn't feel any pain, then suddenly I feel so nervous."
"I'm way too tight, my arms were heavy," he added. "Then I was two sets to love down. I was telling myself, I was hoping I free up at one point. I was telling myself that it is a Major final, fight for every point. Can't get any worse than this."

The 27-year-old even had to pray for Zverev's level to drop as the match went on, because he himself was incapable of making much of an impression on the proceedings early on.

"I was also hoping he gave me a little bit something, because he was playing so good," Thiem said.

The 2020 US Open champion also felt that playing in a stadium without spectators made the situation doubly difficult, as there was nobody to give him 'energy'.

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"It was tough, for everybody I guess. Because the fans, the full stadium, gives you so much energy. You can rely on them, they will carry you through tough situations, carry you when you are flat," Thiem said.

I had to win a Major to be satisfied with my career: Dominic Thiem

Dominic Thiem at the trophy ceremony
Dominic Thiem at the trophy ceremony

The World No. 3 was not in his comfort zone during the match against Zverev despite the fact that he had played a Slam final before. In the immediate aftermath of his win Dominic Thiem had claimed that it was a disadvantage for him that he had played in three Major finals earlier, and he reinforced that idea in the SI podcast.

In particular, Thiem mentioned how gutted he felt after losing the third final to Novak Djokovic at the 2020 Australian Open, and how the memory of that experience was weighing on his mind.

"Experience is one thing but there is this other thing," Dominic Thiem said. "I mean, one Major final loss is fine. The second one is well, because it was a very good match against Rafael Nadal. But the third one against Novak Djokovic was too painful in Australia. I had the chances and for the first time I was getting pretty close to it."

With World No. 1 Novak Djokovic's controversial exit from the tournament also playing into the narrative, the pressure on Dominic Thiem got to borderline unmanageable levels.

"Before yesterday, I was really proud of my career. I achieved more than I had expected as a kid," Thiem added. "But the moment that I realized I had won a Major, this was the biggest goal I had. It's worth more to me than being No. 1. It was just in my head, I had to win this Major title to be satisfied with my career. That's what made it not nice for me to walk into the final."
Published 18 Sep 2020, 03:27 IST
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