Domi(nant) Thiem Wins Barcelona

APTOPIX Spain Tennis Barcelona Open

What a run from Dominic Thiem. I don’t see this just in terms of a win over Nadal in the Barcelona SF in straights, in total command, on the court named after his lofty opponent, where the Spaniard has won 3 million times (11 times actually); I see this as the Austrian’s continued move to tour prominence. He has two titles this year already, one, his first Masters title, by beating Federer in Indian Wells from down a set and the other on a tennis court named after Rafa Nadal whom he beat en route to that title.

Beliem in Thiem?

We first began referencing the Austrian’s potential in 2015 (I checked my blog my self 🙂

But we’ve been quick to track since his real break-through in 2016 when he won four tournaments, on all three surfaces, highlighted by his win over Federer in the Stuttgart final, again coming from down a set. Indeed.

Beliem in Thiem?

Fedal does.

This tennis from the one-hander is electric. Brilliant. Watching Thiem’s development on clay, alone, has been a more obvious sight to behold. The clay brilliance can be seen, in a nutshell, in his H2H with Rafa.

Thiem has beaten Rafa every year since 2016: 2016 Buenos Aires SF, 2017 Rome QF, 2018 Madrid QF, and this past weekend in the Barcelona SF.

Just as meaningful have been some of his losses to the clay GOAT: Barcelona and Madrid Finals in 2017, Roland Garros SF 2017, Roland Garros Final in 2018.

The steady progression has been fantastic, obvious and even sometimes tough to watch since we do consider a loss (such as those I just mentioned) as part of the plot, no?

That 2018 US Open QF Nadal v Thiem is part of the plot. That was tough to watch. I responded pretty melodramatically to that loss to Rafa. Looking back at that match now, like the others, one certainly sees the plot take shape, thicken, develop character, suspense, etc.

Indeed, Thiem’s development on the other surfaces is what has most of my attention (though a French Open title would be simply numbing). His win over Federer in IW has to mark a very different level for the Austrian. That’s my point.

Even this win over Rafa here in Barcelona; beating the Spaniard isn’t new for the Austrian. But there’s something different about Thiem in 2019.

We wrote about the context of power in that match against Roger in IW. We knew of Domi’s unyielding massacre of the ball on virtually every shot, but the match call (Cahill) rolled-out some of the numbers that did exclaim this player’s ascendant form.

I had watched him in-person in the IW SF play a near perfect match, out-hit, out-serve and, of course, out-class Raonic. This brilliant form proved too much for Roger, as well.

He’s out-hitting just about everyone, but more importantly he’s starting to out-think them, as well. Obviously. Beating Fedal like this, a March and April HC/clay spring-time double has to make every Thiem fan a big balloon carrying fanboy and girl. This guy’s class and this tour’s desperate need of this kind of class should make everyone a Thiem fan.

The numbers from this Nadal SF are pretty remarkable. Just a couple:

Thiem’s FS advantage 76% to 64%.
Thiem’s SS advantage 69% to 43%.  Think about that one for a second.
Nadal did not have a BP until that final game where he surged to 0-40, holding three there to get the second set back-on-serve — Vamos? Nada.

Thiem was 31-21 in winners.

But the eye test, my favorite, as you know, told the real story. Nadal camped too far behind the line, Thiem just pounding the Spaniard at his own game, hitting incredibly angled passing CC winners with OHBH or the DTL weapon that has to have most players wondering as the clay season begins to peak toward May and early June.

This is a short video example of a CC BH that leaves Rafa mumbling to himself.

But the DTL winners may be even more incredible. His FH, of course, is looking quite intimidating, as well. I liked that Domi could read Nadal’s approach to the net, which the Austrian answered with more juice, more difficulty.

But let’s not forget the other side of the coin here with Thiem. His drop shot, his half-volley slice-droppers that die on the dirt, spinning into the alley, perhaps Federer-like. Needlesstosay, the way Domi is combining the gorgeous BH (or FH) cut and his power tennis (along with his great movement, serve, etc.) — he’s going to be handful on this surface.

Like Fognini in Monte Carlo, Thiem’s use of the drop shot was remarkably successful and has to have Rafa feeling a little more vulnerable. Watching Rafa NOT get to several of those drop shots adds to the Spaniard’s 2019 concerns.

And like Fognini last week, nice to see Thiem go-on and win the title, take care of business like he did against Medvedev, who continues to impress. Looks like the Russian has some ware-and-tear on that shoulder, however; he’s played a lot of tennis this year. Like Thiem, he needs to manage that; there’s a lot of tennis to play.

So what’s new about this 2019 Thiem? Is it that he’s just a year older? Is it that Fedal are a year older, too?

All of the above and more.

That Bresnik is no longer traveling with him, that he has Nicolás Massú in his box, that he’s simply improved his serve, his full-court presence . . .

All of the above and more.

We want more of this Thiem. This is a classical style of tennis that reaches back historically while, especially in the case of this athlete, moving the sport forward by beating the greats on all manners of surface and style.

We’ll end this here with a soft apology on my inability to write more frequently (the light is at the end of the tunnel, my friends, just as the tennis is about to get nuts) and a little tease on what we need to start thinking about.

With Nadal winless going into Madrid-Rome-Paris, WTF does that mean?
What about Djokovic’s quirky form, again?
What will Federer have for the field as he brings his one-hander back to the dirt?

A lot right there with the Big 3 to consider, but we have some other players to discuss.

Nishikori seemed rampant until that meeting with Medvedev. He butchered FAA.

We’ll take a look at some of the tennis this week as all eyes start to shift towards Madrid.

Getting kinda giddy.

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