In the era of ‘The Big Three’, it’s understandable why it took so long for a men’s singles tennis player born in the 1990s to win a Slam. In the last 17 years, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have won 55 of the 66 Majors. In fact, their domination has been so total that since 2004, there have been only five finals contested without the presence of at least one of the three. In that context, Dominic Thiem’s maiden Slam win on Sunday is a breath of fresh air.
But is it the dawn of a new era? Till the time the Austrian proves himself against the three above-mentioned players, one will have to wait and watch. The 27-year-old has, for sometime, been the main pretender to the throne. Among all active men’s players, no one aged 30 or below has as many as his four appearances in Major finals. He has a winning record against Federer (5-2), and multiple wins over both Djokovic (4-7) and Nadal (5-9). He is accustomed to duelling against three of the game’s greatest players on the biggest stages and has come out on top. But he needs to develop that ruthlessness. It’s why those three have ruled men’s tennis with an iron fist—they don’t give opponents second chances. In all three previous Slam finals featuring Thiem—two against Nadal (2018 and 2019 French Opens) and one against Djokovic (2020 Australian Open)—the World No. 3 learned it first hand. He didn’t grasp the opportunity when it was provided to him. He was leading against the Serb but failed to close out the match.
As we saw in the final against Alexander Zverev, he is still prone to starting matches slowly. But because the German was equally error prone, Thiem found his way back into the encounter. Against the likes of Nadal and Djokovic, he won’t get a second invitation. This win will tell him that he belongs and will act as a morale booster. The French Open that begins next Monday is an apt staging ground to see how far away Thiem is from Nadal. While Thiem loves playing on the dirt, Nadal is the surface’s high priest. If Thiem can successfully challenge the Spaniard, then we can perhaps start talking about a new world order. Until then, it’s time to wait and watch.