Saturday, March 16, 2019 - Dominic Thiem reacts to winning his semifinal match at the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Michael Cummo/BNP Paribas Open)
It was a slow start to the season for the likeable Austrian, who managed to win just three matches in his first four events. The ever hard-working Thiem admitted that over-training during the offseason might have betrayed his body, leading to illness and a shortage of energy – both mental and physical – for him to compete for the 2019’s first trophies.
Fast forward to Saturday afternoon’s thrilling 7-6(3), 6-7(3), 6-4 victory over Canada’s Milos Raonic at the BNP Paribas Open, and those difficult early-season tournaments seem like they never happened.
Raonic made an ominous start to the match, striking a blistering ace down the tee as a warning shot to Thiem. However, his live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword approach would fail him in the tiebreak, as an untimely double fault would immediately see him down a mini-break, which was enough to see the 24-year-old Austrian claim it after 50 minutes of play.
10 winners to zero – yes, ZERO – unforced errors graced the Thiem stat sheet in the first set, as close as one can get to a near-perfect set of tennis. Raonic would have a steep hill to climb if he was to attempt an unlikely comeback, but a crucial fourth game in the second set saw the Canadian No. 1 save his first break point in the match – the momentum of which he’d ultimately turn into an advantage as the two Grand Slam finalists headed into a second-set tiebreak.
Raising his game and attacking the net with patient precision, Raonic would race ahead as Thiem’s ferociously spun groundstrokes began to miss their mark. On one last service winner, the set belonged to the 13th seed.
With little separating the two in the third set, the match was destined to come down to one or two crucial moments of decision-making – and it was Thiem who made the right one at the right time as he had done for much of the match. Electing to attack the sword, not the shield of his opponent, or in this case the Raonic forehand over his backhand, paid dividends for the 2018 Roland Garros finalist, as the Canadian dumped a forehand into the net to secure the first break of the match in the fifth game of the third.
The single break was all that was needed for Thiem, who, despite facing the sole break point against his serve in the final game of the match, was able to secure victory on a simple volley at the net.
“[There was] definitely some things I would have liked to do better, but I thought, you know, I competed and I tried to figure things out as best as I could,” Raonic reflected after the match. “Sort of the way it goes. He played well. He did the things smart, and he did the things better at the end.”
The BNP Paribas Open final will be Thiem’s third at a Masters 1000, but there are few challenges greater than the legendary Roger Federer in the final of one of his most successful events at this level. On the Austrian’s side, however, is an even 2-2 head-to-head with the Swiss. Can he earn a third win over Federer to claim the biggest title of his career – or is this the five-time champion’s to lose?