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The ball is in Dominic Thiem’s hardcourt

Matt Zemek

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Robert Deutsch - USA TODAY Sports

At the U.S. Open, a Big 3 player will almost certainly lift the trophy. Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas will receive considerable attention and scrutiny.

Kevin Anderson might be in a position where he can work off the rust from his injury layoff and make a push toward the latter stages of the second week.

Yet, the men’s U.S. Open — while meaningful for many high-profile players in many ways — will mean the most to Dominic Thiem.

Right?

Roger Federer didn’t win Wimbledon, but he came one point away and showed he is still at the top of his game.

Had he lost again in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, he might have come to New York urgently needing to prove something, but not now. Rafael Nadal won Roland Garros.

Any year in which he does that makes his U.S. Open less pivotal or consequential. Novak Djokovic just won one of the most memorable and significant tennis matches of all time. He’s good.

The ATPNextGin — pass the alcohol, please — is not ready, with the possible exception of Tsitsipas, who might welcome another hardcourt major and the chance to make an Australia-like run.

Ultimately, this tournament means more to Thiem than any other ATP player.

Thiem will turn 26 during this U.S. Open. He has clearly and convincingly shown he can play on hardcourts, something which — 12 months ago — no one could have been sure of.

When he played Rafa in a 4:49 U.S. Open quarterfinal and came two points from victory, he shedded the label of clay-court specialist for good. Just to be absolutely sure, Thiem then won Indian Wells this past March for his first Masters 1000 title, coming from a set down to beat Roger Federer with clutch tennis late in the final set.

Grass is still a mess, but as Stan Wawrinka can tell you, one can still make a perfectly comfortable home at the major tournaments without mastering Wimbledon. Stan The Man has won the other three majors once, giving him a ticket to the Tennis Hall of Fame when he retires.

Thiem’s clay-court credentials are gleaming. They would look even better if Nadal and Djokovic weren’t on the scene, but on clay, Thiem DOES reach meaningful semifinals and finals. Let that point be noted.

He makes long-distance runs on clay at the biggest tournaments, especially Roland Garros. Going through Djokovic to make the final in Paris this year substantially affirmed his clay-court prowess on a global level.

Sure, he still can’t figure out grass. That’s not a big deal… as long as Thiem can make the next step on hardcourts.

The reality does not require an elaborate explanation. It is all rather simple: Once July (Hamburg) ends, the ATP Tour will move to hardcourts for the next several months, encompassing the next two major tournaments in New York this summer and Australia next January.

Dominic Thiem has never made the semifinal of a hardcourt major.

He will be seeded fourth at the U.S. Open, barring an act of God. This means he won’t have to face the Big 3 before the semis.

No one should expect OR demand that he win one of these next two hardcourt majors, but Dominic Thiem definitely needs to make a semifinal at one of these next two majors, and make a decent showing in that semifinal (against a Big 3 opponent) once he gets there.

If Thiem somehow gets a break and plays a non-Big 3 player in one of these hardcourt major semifinals, he ought to win.

These next 6.5 months, especially at the hardcourt majors, represent a time for Thiem to affirm the work — and the improvements — he has produced.

This doesn’t mean lifting a major trophy, but it does mean playing on the second weekends of the majors and making sure that clay is no longer the only surface where Thiem is REGULARLY expected to make deep runs at tour events.

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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