No Wimbledon, no Tokyo Olympics, and now for Dominic Thiem as he prepares to defend his title at the US Open?
If 2020 has been the best year in Dominic Thiem’s career so far, 2021 is shaping up to be one of the worst.
The Austrian ended a four-year wait for an unnamed Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer when he returned from two sets to beat Alexander Zverev at the US Open in September. Having lost his previous three major finals, it was a historic moment for Thiem, and he hoped it would pave the way for more success at the highest level.
“I think it will be easier for me now in the bigger tournaments,” he said after a nervous final.
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How wrong he has been so far.
Thiem’s 2020 season didn’t end too badly, with a quarter-final at Roland Garros a few weeks later – having played no warm-up event on clay – then a three-set loss to Daniil Medvedev in the final of the ATP finals. It looked like Thiem, along with Medvedev and Zverev, would lead the charge against the “Big Three” this year.
The first signs of trouble were at the Australian Open as he lost in straight sets in the last 16 to Grigor Dimitrov, after experiencing an epic clash with Nick Kyrgios in the previous round. Eurosport Expert Tim Henman said he believed Thiem was “out of gas,” while Thiem subsequently hinted that all was not well.
“A few small physical problems. I don’t want to go near them. I don’t want to find excuses. But the thing is, I’m not a machine either. I mean, sometimes I wish I was, but there are really, really bad days. As soon as you’re not one hundred percent on the pitch at that level, then results like this happen, and that’s exactly what happened today.
He then traveled to Doha, losing his second game to Roberto Bautista Agut, before a first round loss to world number 81 Lloyd Harris in Dubai saw him turn his attention to the clay, claiming he needed to take time off to “reset”. He refused to blame a foot problem that had bothered him since late 2020 – “it’s not really the main problem, it’s just that I’m not playing well” – and after nearly two months of hiatus, he made an encouraging comeback to Madrid as he reached the quarter-finals.
But he couldn’t build on that performance and described a first-round loss to Cameron Norrie in Lyon as a “huge setback”. A shock first-round loss followed at Roland Garros, where he had made at least the semi-finals for four of the past five years. Eurosport Mats Wilander said after the loss Thiem didn’t look as “motivated as he used to be and” might need a little break right now.
Now, Thiem’s status for the rest of the summer is unclear after a wrist injury in Mallorca. He was forced to retire against Adrian Mannarino, claiming he heard a “crackle” and was absent from Wimbledon.
He said the
that he will do his best “to be back on court soon” and that he is “determined to come back stronger”. However, he will have to wear a brace for five weeks and will miss the tournaments in Hamburg and Gstaad, as well as the Olympics, which he had to skip anyway. The big question now is whether he will be fit for American swing and potential New York title defense. The US Open begins August 30 and Thiem’s form this year doesn’t suggest a second Grand Slam is around the corner. It is clear that something is missing.
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After his loss to Pablo Andujar at Roland Garros, he said his “shots lacked power” and that he didn’t feel like the “real me… my version who is capable of playing for big titles”. Part of his struggles are because he finally won a big title? Is there still the question of “what comes next”?
Thiem said after winning the US Open: “I have devoted most of my life up to this point to winning one of the four majors. Now I have done it. The short-term impact of achieving his life goal still seems to filter through a year. And he seems to be aware of it.
Speaking after the French Open, he said: “It’s amazing to achieve such a big goal, but at the same time, something is different afterwards. Like I said before the tournament, it’s a big learning curve, and despite the loss, which hurts so much, I still hope I can bounce back stronger than before. But hey, at the moment, I don’t know when the time will come.
Hopefully for Thiem it will happen soon. If not in New York City, then a tournament victory elsewhere would undoubtedly do his confidence the most – and perhaps be the starting point for a race to more Grand Slam titles.
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