After two weeks of action-packed tennis in Flushing Meadows, an unforgettable 2020 US Open has officially come to a close. And while there were no fans in attendance to witness the world-class singles finals, there was one tournament whose presence could not be denied: the BNP Paribas Open.
At the end of two incredible back-and-forth matches over championship weekend in Queens, Naomi Osaka and Dominic Thiem ultimately emerged victorious, each of whom experienced career-defining breakthroughs right here in Tennis Paradise. In what’s becoming somewhat of a BNP Paribas Open hallmark in recent years, (see Bianca Andreescu’s 2019) those who claim the biggest title of their career in Indian Wells have gone on to ascend to tennis superstardom.
It’s clear that there’s something magical in the desert air, as both Osaka and Thiem have catapulted themselves into worldwide stardom after claiming the Indian Wells singles title in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
For Osaka, the 2018 BNP Paribas Open brought an unforgettable breakthrough that signaled the start of a new era in women’s tennis. Having never before made it past the third round of a Premier Mandatory event, she put together a dominant performance and dropped only one set in the middle round of the tournament. She defeated two top-five opponents before handling fellow up-and-comer Daria Kasatkina in the final. Osaka became the youngest BNP Paribas Open champion in the last ten years and moved up to No. 22 in the word.
As if that wasn’t impressive enough, Osaka parlayed her early-season success in Tennis Paradise into her first career Grand Slam title at the 2018 US Open. Just like in Indian Wells, she overwhelmed each opponent she faced and lost only one set throughout the entire tournament. With the victory, Osaka became the first Japanese singles Grand Slam champion in history.
Fast forward to this past week in New York City, where she claimed her second-career US Open title and third overall major championship. After battling back from one set down against acclaimed veteran and two-time BNP Paribas Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the final, Osaka has undoubtedly solidified herself as one of the brightest young faces in tennis. When she makes her way back to the Coachella Valley this March, all eyes will be on the rising 22-year old superstar.
It’s a similar story for Austria’s Dominic Thiem, whose 2019 ascent almost identically mirrors that of Osaka’s the previous year. Before the 2019 BNP Paribas Open, Thiem was seen by many as an elite clay court player who was unable to replicate his success on the other surfaces. He would flip the script on his career with a dramatic performance in Tennis Paradise, traversing a loaded player field to book his spot in the final against five-time BNP Paribas Open champion Roger Federer.
Although he dropped the first set to the legendary Swiss Maestro, Thiem battled back to take the next two frames and claim the single biggest win of his entire career. He had finally broken through on cement, and officially put the rest of the tennis world on notice with his first ATP Masters 1000 title.
After his storybook run in Indian Wells, the rest of the dominoes began to fall. A month later, he conquered a myriad of perennial top-10 opponents at the Barcelona Open to take the title without dropping a set. At Roland Garros, he snapped World No. 1 Novak Djokovic’s 26-match winning streak at Grand Slams before eventually falling in the final. Thiem then returned home to the Generali Open in Kitzbühel to claim his third trophy of the year. To cap off his 2019 season, he defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas at the China Open to claim his record fourth singles title. Like we said, something about that desert air.
Yet amidst all of Thiem’s recent success, the one accolade that still escaped him was a major championship. That all changed this week in Flushing Meadows, as he defeated a who’s who of top-flight competitors including Felix Auger-Aliassime, Alex De Minaur and Daniil Medvedev. In the highly anticipated final, Thiem delivered a comeback performance for the ages with a 5-set triumph over World No. 7 Alexander Zverev. He became the first man in 71 years to win the US Open final after dropping the two opening sets and displayed a level of grit and resiliency befitting the next great men’s tennis star.
While legendary figures like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will surely have something to say when they make their awaited returns to the court, who’s to say Thiem can’t continue his run for the ages with back-to-back BNP Paribas Open titles? We’ll find out next March in Indian Wells.
Before we know it, Osaka, Thiem and more will be back in Tennis Paradise. Don’t miss your opportunity to witness the world-class players that annually descend upon the desert, as the action gets back underway at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden on March 8-21, 2021.