Nadal has spent the last six weeks as the number one men’s tennis player in the world. It is his most recent stretch at the top and it has come to an end.
Who is Dominic Thiem?
Thiem is a right-handed player from Austria. After an illustrious career as a junior tennis player, Thiem made it onto the world stage in 2013 at the Bet-At-Home Cup Kitzbuhel where he made it to the quarterfinals only to lose to Albert Montaes.
In 2014 Thiem made the Australian Open. He got through three qualifying rounds and even beat the second seed while he was at it. In the main draw he defeated his opponent for his first victory in a Grand Slam Tournament. In the second round he fell in straight sets to Kevin Anderson.
2015 saw Thiem win his first ATP World Tour Title. In Nice, France, he beat Nick Kyrgios, Ernests Gulbis, and John Isner before taking home the title against Leonardo Mayer in final contest.
In 2016 he received his first top-ten ranking as well as reaching his first Major Semi-Final and the next year he upped his ranking to top four.
How Does He Play?
Thiem likes to keep to the baseline. He has a powerful forehand and in unique in that he favors a one-handed backhand. Most players opt for the two-handed backhand in order to deal with balls bouncing high off the court. But Thiem has developed his skills to the point where this is not a problem for him.
Thiem loves to use topspin. He employs the spin in both attacking and defending shots. His serve is nothing to sneeze at either. Clocking in at 145 miles per hour his serves can be powerful indeed. However, he often uses topspin on his serves as well, typically on both the first and second serve.
Thiem is not much for the short game. He rarely comes to the net except at the end of point, usually keeping to just one volley. Thiem is a methodical player, not afraid to prolong points from the baseline. He’s patient and precise with his shot construction.
The Match vs. Nadal
Everyone knows that in order to beat Nadal you have to be at your best. Thiem went in with the mindset that he was going to win. He remarked that a winning attitude is a must against one of the greats like Nadal. Without it you are lost.
Nadal plays a tough game, seemingly never getting tired, able to slog it out on the baseline forever. In order to win, Thiem had to stay focused and keep to his game. He didn’t back down from his baseline stand. The first set went a full 75 minutes and Thiem closed it out with a decisive ace.
Thiem began the second set with a 3-1 lead but Nadal did not back down. He battled his way back to 3-3 but Thiem had him the end and won the set. This was the ninth time that the two players have faced off. Thiem’s victory puts him in good company with Novak Djokovic and Gaston Gaudio as the only three players to be Nadal three times or more on clay.
Nadal’s Reaction to the Loss
Nadal was of course saddened by the loss but took it with humility as all great champions do. He acknowledged that he tried to get back into the game several times but just didn’t have it in him. More than that it wasn’t just Nadal’s loss but Thiem’s victory. Every great player has to admit when their opponents have bested them. Nadal made mistakes, yes, but Thiem played well enough to win.
Nadal regrets that he was not able to put Thiem off his game enough. Perhaps Thiem was too comfortable with the competition from the baseline. Maybe Nadal didn’t do enough to take away his forehand. Whatever the case, Thiem emerged the victor to topple Nadal’s winning streak and kick him out of his number one spot.
Now that Nadal is out, Roger Federer has taken his place as number one in the world. But with Thiem’s impressive performance against Nadal and his steady rise to one of the best in the world, it would be no surprise if in a few years we see the Austrian atop the throne of world tennis.