"Dominic Thiem is getting better on hard lanes," has been one of the sub-radar themes of 2019. He beat Roger Federer in the Indian Wells final in March, and this fall he won two more titles on the surface in Beijing and Vienna. At the age of 26, after a lifetime of diehard dirt balls, the Austrian seemed to have decided it was time to make some adjustments and branch out.
"After the US Open, I made a big step in the right direction, especially with my game on the hard lanes, on the faster surfaces," Thiem said in London over the weekend. "I improved my flies, my serving and return."
How could we confirm that this was a legitimate step forward for Thiem, one that could change the way we think about his game and his potential in the future? How could he put his hard track game on our radar rather than under it? Another victory over Federer on an indoor track in the Nitto ATP final would go a long way to voting Thiem as a man on all surfaces (or at least multiple surfaces). That's exactly what he delivered, 7-5, 7-5, in 100 minutes, Sunday night at 02 Arena.
It was not the fact that Thiem beat Federer that was so memorable or impressive; he had a 4-2 record against him coming into the match and he had beaten him in both of their previous meetings in 2019. It was the way Thiem played, from first point to last, that matters.
Thiem has always been comfortable camping far behind the bass line and dealing with heavy, high-luminous top-spin bombs with his opponents. Against Federer on Sunday, he stood closer and never withdrew. It's a cumbersome, risky game for someone with long strokes and a one-handed backhand like his, and he paid the price with a pair of shafts. But Thiem stuck to the plan. Instead of bowing beforehand and merging, he hit it early, into the corners and with a sense of purpose on each ball – his average speed on the hill was 80 mph. to Federers 75. At several key points, Thiem & # 39; s bravery was toward reward as he stood toe to toe in a baseline rally until Federer finally blinked and made a mistake.
Thiem has always enjoyed kicking his second serve in the opponent's backhand side, especially against Federer. In the Indian Wells final, he hit 100 percent of his second serve for Federer’s backhand in deuce court. On Sunday, however, Thiem immediately indicated that he would not adhere to that pattern; at a critical point in the early going, he went up the T with another serve and forced an error from Federer. Thiem never stopped taking risks either. He served for the match 6-5 in the second set, reaching 30-15 with a hooking, 110-mph second that Federer could not handle. For the night, Thiem hit his first batch of 12 m.p.h. faster than he usually does (128 to 116).
Of course, a victory, this important one, could not happen without a hiccup or two. Thiem's came when he tried to serve it at 6-5 in the second. With the fight on his racquet, he became tight and netted a routine backhand and then a short forehand. Would his nerve fail him at the finish line and all his boldness and shooting is nothing? He had come too far to stop the shooting now. He saved one breakpoint with one service winner and another with a forehand winner. With that, Thiem had his third win over Federer in 2019 and a 1-0 record in the ATP final. And his hard-court games are officially on our radar.