Thiem knows it’s his time to shine

 - Alex Sharp

The world No.5 booked his maiden semi-final ticket at the ATP Finals with a classic encounter against Djokovic.

Dominic Thiem hitting a forehand during the Rolex Paris Masters 2019©Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Sprawled out on the baseline like a starfish, Dominic Thiem was absorbing what he’d accomplished.

The match, which earned a standing ovation from the captivated London crowd, will certainly live long in the memory for the Austrian.

“It was maybe the best match I ever played. It was a real classic and epic match which will happen from time to time at these big tournaments,” claimed the Roland-Garros finalist.

“Really epic one in an amazing atmosphere, beating a legend of our game. And also I’ve qualified for the semi-finals, which is the best.”

Thiem catapulted 50 winners

On three previous trips to the O2 Arena Thiem had failed to escape the group stages, however, 2019 is a very different case. The 26-year-old backed up his straight sets triumph over Roger Federer to raise the bar several notches.

On Tuesday night he catapulted 50, yes you read that correctly, 50 winners past the gladiatorial defence of Novak Djokovic to prevail 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(5).

His first victory over the Serbian on a hard court felt like a truly significant triumph, particularly as defeating Federer and Djokovic back-to-back at the ATP Finals last November enabled Alexander Zverev to lift the trophy.

“Coming back from 1-4 (in the third set tie-break) was a little bit of luck, but it was an unbelievable match and one I’ll never forget,” added the Austrian, who gained a tour-leading 15-2 (88 percent) record in decisive-sets this season.

“Probably Novak is the best player in the world right now, so I had to do something outstanding, something unusual, and that's what I did. I was hitting really, really hard.”

©Philippe Montigny/FFT

“He works, thinks and seeks to be No.1”

It’s very easy to forget that Thiem is only aged 26, having first picked up an ATP title in 2015. He’s since flourished into a true Grand Slam contender, proven by Roland-Garros final appearances in the past two Championships.

“He works, thinks and seeks to be No.1,” Nicolas Massu told the ATP website.

Massu became Thiem’s coach back in March, reaping immediate rewards on the hard courts with Masters 1000 glory at Indian Wells.

The Chilean, a former top 10 player himself, has spoken at length over Thiem trusting his game. Massu has urged his pupil to unleash his full firepower on the hard courts.

“I think that there are two main factors. The first is that I really improve my aggressive game style. I'm coming in to the net way more, and that's just important on the hard courts.

“Then also, I don't get the backhand in uncomfortably. I can hit it most of the time in a pretty good zone for me. “That's why I can go many times for a very risky shot, and the possibility that the ball goes in is pretty high because this surface makes it possible that I don't have to hit it too uncomfortable.”

©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Combining belief and ability

Thiem certainly made Djokovic uncomfortable, stepping in and clattering the ball without any hesitation. It was a far cry from the blustery conditions which hampered their five-set thriller at Roland-Garros in June.

“I mean, I don't think I have experienced too many matches like this where my opponent just goes for every single shot,” admitted Djokovic, who must win the ATP Finals to have any chance of regaining the No.1 ranking off Rafael Nadal.

“He was unbelievable, and in some stages, it was just incredible that he was just literally smacking the ball as hard as he can and he was going in. He went for broke.”

Combining the belief installed by Massu and his ability to crunch flat, fizzing shots consistently towards the baseline, Thiem is threatening to brush aside the big three to toast the end of season with the ultimate silverware.

Time for Thiem to take his chance

“I'm really confident, of course. It was I think for the first time that I beat two of the Big three back to back, which gives me a lot of confidence. “Also, I'm super happy and proud that I reached the semi-finals for the first time. It was a big goal, but of course it's not enough now. I'll try to play a good match against Matteo on Thursday. I want to keep up the great level I had in the first two matches also for the semi-finals.”

With the big three on the brink in east London, the defending champion Zverev off-kilter, Thiem must persist with the full-throttle tennis.

Not only is it compelling viewing, it might be too much force for the title rivals. It’s time for Thiem to take his chance.