Dominic Thiem has gotten his ATP Finals campaign off to a flying start, with consecutive wins over Stefanos Tsitsipas (7-6 4-6 6-3) and Rafael Nadal (7-6 7-6) in London's O2 Arena.
The Austrian produced some of the most clutch tennis of his career against Nadal, in what many are calling the best match of the year. Thiem's forehand was on fire almost throughout, but his backhand was almost equally impressive with its power and unpredictability.
In the press conference following his big win, Dominic Thiem talked about the work he has put into his backhand, and the strategy he employed to overcome the challenge put up by the World No. 2.
Down-the-line backhand is the only thing that's a little easy against Rafael Nadal on hardcourt: Dominic Thiem
Dominic Thiem had a lot of success with the down-the-line backhand in particular against Nadal. The Austrian revealed that that wasn't a coincidence, but the result of the hours he had put in on the practice court.
"I practised that shot (backhand down-the-line) so much before the season started again," the 27-year-old said.
Thiem's clean and heavy groundstrokes from both wings caused Nadal all sorts of problems on Tuesday. The down-the-line backhand, particularly on the return against the wide serve in the ad court, took the Spaniard by surprise on several points and drew widespread praise from fans.
The Austrian believes that that particular shot is one of the very few ways in which he can disrupt the 20-time Grand Slam champion's rhythm - especially on surfaces other than clay.
"That’s the only thing which is a little bit easy against Rafa on hard court or faster surfaces where the bounce is not that high. On clay, it’s impossible to do that shot against him. His topspin is way too aggressive. But here it’s faster. It’s not bouncing that high," said the US Open champion.
The win against Nadal would have given Dominic Thiem a great deal of confidence for the remainder of the tournament. Stefanos Tsitsipas' win over Andrey Rublev later in the day meant that Thiem has qualified for the semifinals as the group topper, and the Austrian would be hoping to go all the way this year.
The Austrian finished as the runner-up at last year's event, losing in a deciding set tiebreak against Tsitsipas in the final.
Thiem can possibly end the year as World No. 2, provided he remains unbeaten for the rest of the tournament and Rafael Nadal fails to reach the final. That would make him the only player outside Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray to finish the year in the top 2 of the rankings since 2004.Published 18 Nov 2020, 19:29 IST