Call Dominic Thiem “McAfee” or “Norton,” because his antivirus program apparently does work.
He just needed time to make it fully operational.
Thiem came back from set-and-break deficits to beat both Karen Khachanov (semifinals) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (final) to win the China Open in Beijing. This came after beating Andy Murray in the quarterfinals.
Is this the same guy who, hobbled by the lingering effects of a virus picked up in August, lost to Thomas Fabbiano at the U.S. Open? The body of Dominic Thiem was on that court at Arthur Ashe Stadium, but the tennis player wasn’t.
Thiem hit tons of slices in that match. His shots didn’t pop. He lacked consistent power.
This was not a tactical misplay or a temporary loss of sanity. It was, simply and sadly, a physically limited performer who could not call forth more than what he had.
(The U.S. Open has involved a lot of those stories in recent years, 2019 being a representative example.)
The reality of Thiem continuing to burnish his hardcourt credentials by going through Murray, Khachanov, and Tsitsipas — sometimes playing great tennis, always displaying supreme resolve in the face of challenges — makes me happy for him.
It also makes me angry.
Not AT Dominic Thiem, but at the fates.
I wish this Dominic Thiem — a healthy Dominic Thiem, a man without a virus — could have played at the U.S. Open.
When the story of tennis in 2019 is written, it will feature the major championship winners as it always does. It will note the meteoric rise of Daniil Medvedev. Future years will tell us if that rise was the start of something remarkable, or if it was a cruel tease.
The 2019 season in tennis will be a story of remarkable parity, unpredictability and depth on the WTA Tour. It will be a story of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal winning two majors each, a story of memorable Wimbledon matches and Serena Williams’ ability to make two more major finals.
It will also be a story of Dominic Thiem at the U.S. Open and Kiki Bertens at Roland Garros.
Two players who had so much to prove — and gain — at those two events were felled by illness.
Bertens had to retire early from her final match in Paris, so her opponent, Viktoria Kuzmova, never got the chance to complete a full-length match victory. Fabbiano — who beat Tsitsipas at Wimbledon — does deserve credit for making the most of his opportunity and winning a four-set battle against Thiem.
Nevertheless, it remains that Thiem — whose hardcourt quality keeps improving — was denied a chance to show how much he had evolved as a big-tournament hardcourt player.
His win in Beijing is impressive and heartening, but it also reminds me (I can’t speak for anyone else here) that tennis was robbed of a proving-ground moment in New York.
Thiem’s ability to tuck away this ATP 500 title in Beijing only increases the stakes and the amount of global interest in his 2020 Australian Open campaign.
Hopefully Thiem’s antivirus program can work then, and at every big hardcourt tournament next year.
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