World No. 3 Dominic Thiem is one of the top contenders at the US Open this year in the absence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The Austrian, who finished as the runner-up at the other hardcourt Major in 2020, extended his bid for a maiden Grand Slam title with a straight-sets win on Wednesday.
Dominic Thiem celebrated his 27th birthday with a convincing performance against India’s Sumit Nagal in his 2020 US Open second round match. The Austrian showed an improved level compared to his first round match, winning a solid 75% of his first serve points.
However, Thiem's tactics on the return against Nagal were widely bashed on social media. Famous journalist Ben Rothenberg led the waving of criticism, questioning why the Austrian was standing so far back in the court to return his opponent's serve.
"Some serves can be attacked!" - Ben Rothenberg on Dominic Thiem's return strategy
Dominic Thiem played 28 exhibition matches during the lockdown, but has struggled to carry his form into competitive matches. Having lost his opening match at the 2020 Western & Southern Open last week, Thiem is taking a lot of time to get into his rhythm.
At Flushing Meadows, Dominic Thiem has clearly not adjusted to the speed of the courts yet. That is probably why the World No. 3 opted to return from the deep end of the court against both of his opponents, despite neither of them having a big serve.
Ben Rothenberg was quick to point out that Dominic Thiem's ultra-deep return positioning against Nagal was a counterproductive move given the lack of pace on the Indian's serve. The New York Times journalist also suggested that Dominic Thiem needed watch some WTA matches for inspiration, where the women are always intent on attacking their opponents' weaker serves.
"Thiem with his butt on the wall to return these leisurely Sumit Nagal serves that are in the 80s mph-wise," Rothenberg said.
Perhaps Dominic Thiem's motivation behind returning from so far back was to get more balls in and generate higher spin. However, Thiem has shown in the recent past that he can strike the ball well even when he takes it on the rise; his insistence on abandoning that in favor of a more defensive positioning prompted many viewers to critique the Austrian's strategy.
Ben Rothenberg went on to call Dominic Thiem's return of serve "ludicrous". He also reminded the Austrian that getting the ball back in play is not always the wisest move while returning; sometimes, it helps to be more proactive.
"Truly, this is ludicrous," Rothenberg continued. "The eventual serve Thiem received from Nagal was 88 mph. Watch a WTA match, Dominic! Returns can be a weapon! Some serves can be attacked!"
That said, Dominic Thiem's tactics on the return didn't cost him too much during his second round match. In fact, he had slightly better stats on the return against Nagal than he did against Jaume Munar in the first round.
Thiem had managed to win just 25% of his second return points on Munar's serve in two sets before the Spaniard had to retire. By contrast, the World No. 3 won 46% of the points on Nagal's underpowered second serve.Published 04 Sep 2020, 16:53 IST