After feeling all sorts of emotions and pains in the stomach watching Nadal and Djokovic in the Wimbledon Semi-Final this year, I was definitely not up for another gut-wrenching one. But Dominic Thiem, the only man on tour who believes he can beat Rafael Nadal, was not ready to feel like a first-timer at a Major QF.
Right from the start, he owned the stage and showed his prowess and knowledge of Nadal’s game and where he could put the winners–surprisingly, he had more winners than Nadal at the end of the match but still lost it!
If you remember watching him at the Madrid Open this year when he beat Nadal, you will remember how bludgeoning he was in his forehand inside-out shots. He has an uncanny control over his backhand reminding a lot of people of Roger Federer. Over the years, a lot of people have developed that potential including Shapovalov, Dimitrov, Wawrinka, and even others, but Thiem’s control and ability to change angles of his backhand shot are incredible.
Till now, he had not shown his Nadal-like resilience to play long and taxing matches, or he never got the chance to do so, but today he gave Nadal a taste of his own dose many a time. The only point he could not outshine Nadal was when he approached the net for a volley.
He is already 25 and not shockingly young to win a Grand Slam–in fact, by the standards of the Big 3, he is late. Yet, out of all the young players who patrons of Tennis are pinning their hopes on once the Big 3 hang their boots, Thiem is the most promising to take up the mantle of being a Grand Slam Champion. Zverev is younger than him and has the class, but he has not fulfilled his promise at the biggest stage yet.
In fact, there is a lurking fear of a vacuum that will be created once the Champions call it quits for there seems to be no young player who could be as dominant on the tour as Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have been.
Closely watching Nadal’s progress in this year’s US Open, you would say he did not look fully fit at the beginning. His feet were not moving at all in the first set. He had a strapped knee during the match against Khachanov. But he emerged victorious, though another grueling match awaits him against the towering Del Potro.
All said and done, I would say Dominic Thiem played a great match today and he knocked on the doors of the Big 3 claiming that he is ready to take up the charge.