2020 has already been a pivotal year for Dominic Thiem. He made his Top 3 debut in March, and in September he won his first major at the US Open. One Saturday he notched his 300th victory and, in the process, joined an incredibly exclusive club with only one other member: a Scotsman who was knighted by Prince Charles in 2019.
With his remarkable two-hour and 54-minute win over Novak Djokovic at the O2 on Saturday, the man some affectionately call the Thieminator joined Andy Murray as the second man in tennis history to score five or more wins against every member of the Big Three. —Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
“It’s super special for me,” Thiem said of the achievement. “To beat the three best players of all time, five times each is something great for me. It’s a super cool statistic but like I said after the game with Rafa every game against them is a huge privilege. It’s a huge learning opportunity and of course if you beat these guys it gives you a huge boost in confidence.
Just a few years ago, this achievement seemed unlikely. He was 7-15 against the Big Three before 2019, but it’s been a spectacular 9-3 against them since, although two of those losses were particularly painful, as they came in the major finals (2019 Roland Garros in Nadal and Australian Open 2020 in Djokovic). The Austrian has a 5-2 career advantage over Federer, is now 5-7 against Djokovic and 6-9 against Nadal, but could have the opportunity to close that gap on Sunday if Nadal beats Medvedev in the second half. Saturday final.
After the game, Djokovic made no apologies and gave his opponent all the credit.
“What he did (back) from 0/4 (down) in the third set tie-break was just unreal,” said the Serbian, who turned 33 in May. “I mean, I don’t think I played badly. He just crushed the bullet… he just took it away from me. But he deserved it, because he just went there and everything was working. I have to lower my hat and say: Congratulations.
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The salute was genuine – Thiem is one of the most popular players in the locker room. Nobody wants to lose, but when opponents head for the net after being beaten by him, they often seem really happy for him, like Novak did today.
The march from defeat to the net is apparently happening more and more for Austria’s opponents every year. He led the TBEN with 211 wins in 2016-9 but before 2019 Thiem was 15-32 against the Top 10. As of 2019 he is 17-8 against the Top 10.
Thiem turned 27 in September. In baseball, hitters are said to be at their peak at batting at this age. The Big Three, however, all had their best seasons (Federer-2004, Nadal-2010, Djokovic-2011) earlier, around 23-24 years old. In Thiem’s case, his escape was slower because it was later than the mere fact that he had the three kings of tennis in his path.
Filmmaker Luis Bunuel once said: “Age doesn’t matter if you’re not a cheese”. But the fact that Thiem is six years younger than Novak, seven younger than Nadal and 12 years younger than Federer bodes well for him to potentially have a winning record against the Three Musketeers in due time. Last year he beat Federer, Djokovic and Alexander Zverev en route to the Nitto ATP Finals title match. This year his victims include Nadal and Djokovic, and he could have another crack at Rafa tomorrow. Times, as Bob Dylan once sang, are a change.