Thiem harnessing New York memories in hunt for US Open glory

 - Alex Sharp

The two-time Roland-Garros finalist is within striking distance of a maiden Grand Slam title.

Dominic Thiem US Open 2020Darren Carroll/USTA

The Australian Open final seems a long way away right now, but cast your mind back to Melbourne in early February.

Dominic Thiem was a within a set of lifting his first Grand Slam title, until the dogged Novak Djokovic prevailed once again.

It was tantalisingly close for the Austrian, who has also fallen at the final hurdle to Rafael Nadal in the previous two Roland-Garros finals.

For sure it was disappointing for him, but Thiem seems to dust himself down with consummate ease.

Looking sharper

Take his opener in New York. The 27-year-old put in a lacklustre showing at the relocated Cincinnati Masters, succumbing 6-2, 6-1 to Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic.

The opening week of his US Open campaign wasn’t exactly sparkling either, but the second seed was looking sharper as the matches progressed. Well, into the fourth round against the in-form Felix Auger-Aliassime, it was billed as a blockbuster.

Starting to find that mixture

World No.3 Thiem had other ideas and blitzed through with 12 of the last 14 games in his favour for a 7-6(4), 6-1, 6-1 triumph.

"I was really nervous before the match… The second and third sets were 100 per cent the best sets so far in this overseas trip,” explained the highest-ranked man left in the draw.

“I'm starting to find that mixture that I had in Australia, offence and defence, and putting a lot of returns in play. I'll try to bring that form with me to the next round."

That next round is the Austrian’s second US Open quarter-final clash. His memories of a gruelling battle with Rafael Nadal back in 2018 are spurring him on this fortnight at Flushing Meadows.

"Something I will remember forever"

“I still love to remember that match, as it was 100% one of the three best matches I've ever played. Great atmosphere out there,” recalled Thiem, reflecting on the feast of riveting rallies which Nadal eventually won 7-6(5) in the absorbing finale.

“I think we both played on a good level. Was almost five hours. Great match of tennis. Of course, I was really disappointed not to get the win back then. It helped me to play a great finish of that year, gave me a big boost of confidence.

“Definitely it's something I will remember forever. I love to watch the highlights or sometimes even the whole match when I'm bored or when I try to relive the feeling somehow (smiling). Definitely great moments for me to remember.”


Dominic Thiem smiling at the 2020 Australian Open Portrait©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

A bigger chance to win a first slam?

Thiem evidently cherishes that clash with Nadal, who is absent in New York to concentrate on the Road to Roland-Garros later this month.

This year’s US Open is the first major since Roland-Garros 2004 without a member of the ‘big three’ in the quarter-finals.

The 27-year-old realises this is a golden opportunity to convert his astonishing consistency into Grand Slam silverware.

For me personally, it never mattered. I just always tried to focus on my next match. My focus or my concentration, it's the same. It doesn't matter if I play one of the big three members or if I play somebody else. We just need to focus and focus on ourselves,” maintained Thiem.

“Of course, it's probably a little bit of a bigger chance for all of us to win the first slam, but basically the things didn't change that much, at least for myself. There are still many, many super players around.”

Another shot

The second seed will face the rapid Australian Next Gen star Alex de Minaur on Wednesday.

"I'm probably one of the oldest players in the field, which is a bit surreal to me," quipped Thiem, ahead of taking on the 21-year-old Sydneysider."He's a bit like Felix, absolute superstar, up-and-coming. It doesn't matter if the big three are here or not. Everybody wants their hands on the trophy."

There is a real Next Gen flavour to proceedings in New York, but with three Grand Slam finals under his belt, Thiem is hoping experience counts this week at Flushing Meadows.

Should the second seed then dispatch either Russian Daniil Medvedev or Andrey Rublev in the last four, he will have another shot at Grand Slam glory.  

It’s the perfect platform to prove he is the main man to disband the dominance of the big three.