Dominic Thiem, coming off a Beijing championship, was not expected to go all the way and win in Shanghai, on a fast hardcourt surface which doesn’t easily complement his game and its shape.
However, if you had told Thiem that when he took the court for his quarterfinal against Matteo Berrettini in Shanghai, both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer would be out of the tournament, the Austrian’s eyes might have lit up.
To be sure, this was a chance for Thiem — and everyone else left in the tournament at that point — to snag a Masters title and gain the points boost it offered.
The main question relative to Thiem in Shanghai is this: Should Dominic feel especially disappointed by the loss to Berrettini?
My answer to that question is simple: not at all.
This Shanghai tournament was very unexpected in many ways: Djokovic and Federer lost on the same day. Neither made the semifinals at a Masters tournament they both entered, a very rare occurrence.
Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, both struggling for months, did improve in Beijing. Yet, even then, did a Beijing result mean they were both ready to topple Big 3 opponents in Shanghai?
You might have thought Zverev or Tsitsipas was ready to make a run. If so, cheers! You were ahead of the curve.
Don’t pretend, however, that MOST people thought Zverev was ready to handle Federer, or that Tsitsipas was ready to fend off Djokovic.
Younger players made statements at this tournament… and Matteo Berrettini was one of them.
The Thiem-Berrettini first set was — a lot like the first set of Berrettini’s U.S. Open semifinal against Rafael Nadal — extremely close. It went into a prolonged-length tiebreaker. Unlike the Open against Rafa, Berrettini won the final point of the breaker.
Like Shanghai champion Daniil Medvedev, only on a much smaller scale, Berrettini took the good work he had done at the U.S. Open and carried it to China. I don’t know how many expected that to happen, but the Italian pulled it off.
His big game was suited for the fast track in Shanghai, certainly more than Thiem. He won the most important points of a contentious match. If Thiem once suffered bad hardcourt losses (before his breakthrough 2017 U.S. Open, which culminated in his epic loss to Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals), this was not a recurrence. This was a close loss to an in-form player who is riding the wave.
I reiterate the following point about Thiem after his fortnight in China: These two weeks of good tennis make it all the more notable — and unfortunate — that Thiem had a virus at the U.S. Open. He wasn’t allowed to show what he could do on hardcourts at a tournament in which the field was vulnerable.
If Thiem can be healthy for the ATP Finals, he has a real chance to make the semifinals, which would represent a terrific achievement to not only end his 2019 season, but put him in the top tier of contenders in Australia in 2020.
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