Indian Wells: dream Thiem pushed past Federer

 - Alix Ramsay

Dominic Thiem pushed and pushed and finally pushed past Roger Federer to win his first Masters 1000 title.

No 101 for Roger but first ATP Masters 1000 for Dominic!© FFT / Corinne Dubreuil

All things considered, Roger Federer did not look too, too concerned about his loss to Dominic Thiem. At the age of 37, and with his 100th title safely secured a couple of weeks ago in Dubai, he had had a pretty good run recently.

What a performance! What a win against Federer!© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

And for a set and a bot of the BNP Paribas Open final on Sunday, he looked as if he was ready to move another step closer to Jimmy Connors’s record of 109 career titles: he was playing very, very well and there was not a lot Dominic Thiem could do about it. But never underestimate the man from Austria. Over the course of two hours and two minutes, Thiem pushed and pushed and finally pushed past the great champion to win his first Masters 1000 title 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Of course, the threat was always there with the world No.8 from Lichtenwörth; it was just that the crowd could not quite believe that he would do the unthinkable and beat Federer. Yet Thiem is a meticulous man, a methodical man, and a ridiculously hard working man. And he had come to the desert with a new team around him and a plan.

A new team and a plan

Growing up on clay, it took him time to learn the ways of the faster courts. He has won on them in the past, but to beat Federer of all people, and do it in a Masters 1000 final, was beyond his wildest dreams. Or it was until he asked Nicolas Massu to come and work with him back in January.

“He preferred playing on clay,” Thiem said of his new mentor, “but his biggest success came on a fast hard court at the Olympics [in Athens in 2004]. He knows what it means to feel at home on clay, but transfer good results to a hard court. That’s one of the things we expect from the relationship.”

That Massu lived up to those expectations so early in the partnership came as something of a surprise. “It’s just our third week together and our first Masters 1000 title. It’s unbelievable.”

An appropriate reward

For all his talent and legendary strength and stamina, Thiem has yet to get the appropriate reward for all his hard work. This was only the 12th title of his career and his first at this level. He had reached two Masters 1000 finals in the past, both on clay, but they did not end well. He reached the Roland Garros final last summer but then Rafa Nadal put him in his place. Now, finally, he had emerged as a champion when it mattered.

“It’s not my right to congratulate you,” Thiem said a little shyly to the GOAT, “because you have 88 more titles than me! But it’s such a pleasure to still compete with you, to still learn from you. You are one of the greatest legends.”

The greatest legend was talking it all in his stride. He knew he had had his chances and he knew that when those chances came, Thiem had been that little bit too good. But overall, Federer was feeling fit, playing well and he was planning on doing this all over again in Miami for the next Masters event.

“It's hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong,” Federer said. “The return he hits on the line at 5-5, that's the one I needed, and I couldn't produce that. Why is that? You can start looking, digging so deep, and then you end up getting lost, rather than just saying, you know, he played maybe a little bit better when he really had to.

Elusive 101th

“But again, I didn't feel like I played bad, either. I had my chances. I was in the points. That's why I'm not too disappointed. I feel like he had to come up with the goods, and it did feel like to some extent it was in my racket. I just came up against somebody who was on the day, you know, a bit better when it really mattered.”

And with that, Federer was off to Miami to begin his challenge for that elusive 101st title.