Dominic Thiem authored a story he fully intended to create at Indian Wells. Nabbing his first Masters 1000 title at a hardcourt event was straight out of the Andre Agassi playbook at Wimbledon in 1992. A career breakthrough occurred at a place and a point in time which defied expectations.
The points Thiem gained in Indian Wells, even with his early loss in Miami, put the Austrian in position to do something very important: Pass Roger Federer for the No. 4 seed at Roland Garros, which Federer is playing this year.
Thiem entered the Monte Carlo Masters almost 900 points behind Federer. That might have seemed like a significant deficit, and to an extent it always was significant. However: Thiem is a clay-court demon, and he lost relatively early in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, and especially Rome. He had plenty of points to gain at those three tour stops.
Thiem obviously would have helped his cause by winning a clay title in this spring swing, but as he came to Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, France, for the Monte Carlo Masters, Thiem didn’t have to win this or any other tournament to catch Federer for No. 4 in the rankings.
A Monte Carlo semifinal, a Barcelona final, a Madrid final, and a Rome final would have created more than 900 added points. Without winning a single trophy in the lead-up events to Roland Garros, Thiem would have approached Federer’s point total and forced the Swiss to win at least one match in Madrid, maybe two.
If Thiem made a Monte Carlo final instead of a semifinal (where he was bracketed to play Novak Djokovic), he would have forced Federer to win even more in Madrid to retain the No. 4 spot.
Thiem did not have to win these tournaments… but he DID have to be consistently strong at them.
Thursday, Thiem took his eye off the ball. Dusan Lajovic played a terrific match as well — that is also part of the story — but Thiem once again failed to make his first Monte Carlo semifinal. He would have played Lorenzo Sonego in the quarterfinals, a draw far more comfortable than he had a right to expect.
He blew it.
Now, Thiem is in a position where he will have to win at least one title in the next month if he wants to pass Federer for the No. 4 seed in Paris. Rome — where he is defending barely any points — would be the best place to do that. Thiem will also have to accompany a 2019 clay title — wherever it might occur — with deep runs in the other events. Anything less will reduce his slim margin for error.
For example, if he makes the semifinals in Madrid — a solid result — that would still mean a 240-point loss. He would need to win Barcelona to offset a 240-point loss in Madrid, and then win Rome to collect enough points to overtake Federer, assuming the Swiss loses early in Madrid.
Dominic Thiem had to beat Dusan Lajovic and Lorenzo Sonego to make his first Monte Carlo semifinal… and make his life easier in the month of May. He could not get the job done. Now his clay season is a lot more urgent than he ever wanted it to be.