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Dominic Thiem waits for his chance — and seizes it

Matt Zemek

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports

The nuances of language can lead us down the path of misperception. When one says that a human being must “wait for his chance,” one could suggest the idea that a man should not be proactive or ambitious.

“Wait” could be construed as “don’t make things happen.”

“Wait” could mean “bide your time and trust that the right circumstances will eventually emerge.”

In a context of social activism, the notion of waiting can be harmful. Martin Luther King — who knew a thing or two about the importance of social activism — wrote about the need to NOT wait.

Yet, while King was not fond of the notion of waiting, he was also, surely, a patient person — not in the sense that he believed in waiting, but in the sense that he knew change didn’t occur in one moment. Change occurred over a long period of time in a difficult struggle. King knew that a belief in nonviolence required the patience to not physically strike back at his oppressors, a truth lived out by Jackie Robinson within the context of American sports and Major League Baseball. King was patient in terms of his restraint and his ability to maintain composure in the face of withering pressure and constant attacks from the outside world.

Patience — waiting — is not passivity. That is what I am trying  to establish here. Patience is an act of toughness, or at least, it can be in its highest form.

I give you the patient Dominic Thiem, who waited for his chance at Indian Wells on multiple levels… and seized his chance every time. He won his first Masters 1000 tournament and abruptly changed the tenor of his 2019 season.

Thiem had to wait for his chance to break Milos Raonic’s serve in Saturday’s semifinals. He finally did in the third set. By managing to win the first-set tiebreaker, Thiem bought himself time to break Raonic’s serve. Splitting two tiebreakers wasn’t perfect, but it extended the match into a third set, when Thiem pounced. He made that one break stand up.

He waited in the sense that he was prepared for a long struggle — 2:31 in a match with very few break points — and prevailed.

Then came Sunday’s final against Roger Federer.

The book on Federer in this latter stage of the Swiss’s career is that he will go walkabout to a degree in a second set, or more broadly, that he won’t stay at a very high plane. Tennis With An Accent contributor and podcast guest Andrew Burton has made reference of the notion that while Federer’s very best tennis might rate as an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10, Roger will more frequently dip to a 7 on that same scale. On the other hand, Djokovic and Nadal might reach an 11 less often than Federer does, but they simply don’t dip below a 9 or 9.5.

If you wait against Federer — not in the sense of being passive, but in the sense of being solid enough to stay in the fight and wait for Federer’s quality of play to begin to dip — you will get your chance.

This is essentially how Thiem lost the first set but fought back to win his first Masters 1000 title, 7-5 in the third, in a tense and compelling men’s final.

Patience is not passivity. This is your lesson for the day. It is a lesson Dominic Thiem learned and cashed into the biggest title of his career to date.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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