Dominic Thiem played a clay 250. Do you think I approve of this scheduling decision? You might be surprised to learn that I do. WHAT? Yes, it’s true. I also think Diego Schwartzman made a good decision to play this event.
Wait a minute, you might be wondering: Why bag on Thiem’s scheduling, and why devote so much time and space to the need to schedule like an elite player, only to then approve of this journey to South America for a clay 250 with Indian Wells a few weeks away?
You’re not being consistent, Matt. Come on! What gives?
It is a fair question.
My fundamental answer: Circumstances matter, an explanation I constantly carry with me as a sportswriter and commentator.
Circumstances shape matches, I am fond of saying. Draws matter, I am fond of noting. The particular details of a tournament or the ebb and flow of a tennis season shape the decision to play a specific event.
For both Thiem and Schwartzman — who met in the Buenos Aires semifinals and reached the doubles final together before losing to Maximo Gonzalez and Horacio Zeballos — playing this tournament did make sense.
Start with Thiem. He wasn’t healthy in Australia and didn’t play very much tennis in January — only nine full sets, in fact. If Thiem has overworked himself in the past, he entered February with very little work, so this tournament in Buenos Aires made perfect sense as a chance to get in a lot of work.
Thiem didn’t win the title, so he didn’t get EVERYTHING he wanted, but he got most of what he wanted. A player of Thiem’s stature and prominence generally doesn’t play a 250 for the points. The points help, yes, but a top-10 player doesn’t go to bed cursing the fact that he left 160 points on the table. Thiem needed work, and he got a ton of work in. He has gotten his teeth into the meat of the tennis season. Now he can move forward. Everything I normally dislike about Thiem’s scheduling habits was a feature, not a bug, of this decision to play Buenos Aires.
For Schwartzman, playing this event was the right thing to do on a more personal level.
Roger Federer has Basel.
Rafael Nadal has Barcelona.
Top French players have multiple 250s in their home country.
Playing in front of your home-nation fans is special for many athletes. Who cares if the tournament is not a Masters 1000? It is a chance to play a tournament in which you might be able to sleep in your own bed, and in which you can wake up speaking your own language to the local media and the staff at a hotel if you need to stay at one. You eat familiar food and generally get to live in a more natural set of surroundings — at least to an extent.
You also get to hear the roar of the crowd and play for your fellow citizens.
Diego Schwartzman soaked up this experience and reveled in his dramatic comeback win over Thiem in Saturday’s semifinals.
Players play for points and prize money and prestige. They also play for the kinds of moments El Peque forged on Saturday afternoon against Thiem.
It is said that you can’t have everything you want in life. The Big 3 might be exceptions to that in men’s tennis, but generally, it is true. Dominic Thiem and Diego Schwartzman didn’t get 100 percent of what they wanted in Buenos Aires, but they came very close.
It was a good week for Dom and Diego. As the saying goes, “Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”