'I hope I win my maiden Slam when they're still around': Thiem on Big Three

  • Reem Abulleil

In an era of ‘Big Three’ dominance, it must be quite frustrating trying, and failing, to snatch a Grand Slam title from the grip of that devastating trio.

Three times Dominic Thiem has made a major final, and three times he has fallen short – twice against Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros and once against Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open.

With each final the Austrian has contested, he won an extra set en route to defeat. In his latest attempt – a five-set loss to Djokovic at Melbourne Park on Sunday – Thiem went up two-sets-to-one before succumbing to the eight-time Australian Open champion.

Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer have combined to win the last 13 consecutive majors, and 52 of the last 60. It would be understandable if Thiem simply chooses to bide his time until the ‘Big Three’ decide to retire; they are aged 32 and over after all. But Thiem refuses to think that way and is ever so keen to lift a first Grand Slam title while the trio are still around.

“These guys brought tennis to a complete new level. They also brought me probably to a much better level,” said the 26-year-old Thiem.

“I think it was amazing how the matches went this week. It's great tennis. It's a great show for everybody. Of course, it would be or it was easier for sure in a different era to win big titles. That's 100 per cent.

“But I'm happy I can compete with these guys on the best level. I really hope also that I win my maiden Slam when they're still around because it just counts more.”

Since Nadal’s first Roland Garros triumph in 2005, the only men outside the ‘Big Three’ to lift a major trophy are Juan Martin del Potro, Andy Murray, Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka.

From the younger generation, Daniil Medvedev pushed Nadal to five sets in the US Open final last year, while Thiem has proven to be a serious threat as well. The Austrian is certain the gap closing on the three frontrunners.

Dominic Thiem reacts during the AO2020 final

“I think it's only small details. In the last two finals - US Open and here - it was really close. It could have gone either way for Daniil in US Open and for me here,” he explains.

“There's nothing special to say about it. It takes nothing more than just little bit of luck, little details there. Maybe if I convert the breakpoint in the fourth set, maybe I'm sitting here as a winner.

“It just takes hard work. Me and also the other young players who have definitely the potential to win a Slam, to play every single of these four with determination and give myself a new chance hopefully.”

Thiem had a brutal fortnight in Melbourne where he battled through five sets in his second round against Alex Bolt, defeated world No.1 Nadal in four gruelling sets in the quarterfinals, then had a similar four-set battle with Alexander Zverev in the semis. In total he spent 22 hours and 14 minutes on court through his seven singles matches.

“I think I've rarely felt physically that tired, especially now after all the tension's gone,” he said on Sunday night. 

“I played an unbelievable intense match against Rafa, such an intense match against Sascha in the semis. Today again I think almost over four hours. I think that was very demanding.

“Of course, I just feel a lot of emptiness right now. But that's it. I know the feeling. I did after the last two in Paris. But, yeah, also already now I feel little bit of motivation to come back for the next Grand Slam. Well, if I have a little break, it's going to be bigger.”

After suffering a heartbreaker like that, Thiem is already looking ahead to his next challenge. He’s sounding more and more like the legendary champions he is trying to defeat. His time will come.