Time for Thiem

In sports, when you say “Big Three,” you mean the dominance of a triumvirate. The NBA is credited with (Celtics) Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish; (Spurs) Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli; and (Cavs) LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

Tennis has Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. Starting with the 2003 Wimbledon and ending with the 2020 Australian Open, Tennis’ Big 3 has won 56 of the last 67 Grand Slam singles trophies. This number is incredible considering that there are tens of millions of men’s tennis players worldwide and only three have won 83.58% of all majors in a 17-year span.

“Give chance to others” is not the motto of the trio. 

Which brings us the US Open final tomorrow: Dominic Thiem vs. Alexander Zverev. No Roger (injured), no Rafa (preparing for Paris), and no Novak (disqualified). You can say that the Austrian and German are lucky because they didn’t have to face the Big 3 en route to their first major win.

My pick: He started tennis at the age of six, resides in a small town (pop: 3,000) called Lichtenwörth, and he plays with a one-handed backhand. I first saw Thiem at the 2015 French Open. Then, he was only 21 but was already rumored to be a future star. Watching his match against Pablo Cuevas (in a side court), I stood a few meters away. His Adidas shirt got drenched in sweat as he would muscle and batter each forehand. 

In October 2019, I had another chance to watch Thiem. With my wife Jasmin and doctors Ronnie and Stevee Medalle, we watched the Shanghai Open. Thiem lost in the quarters to Matteo Berrettini (and Daniil Medvedev, whom Thiem beat in yesterday’s semis, won in Shanghai) but nobody impressed us more with hard-hitting tennis than the 6-foot-1 Austrian.

The practice court is the best place to be upclose to these players. For an hour before their match, they’d warm-up and rally. Federer was relaxed and carefree with his strokes.

Not Thiem. The 27-year-old bludgeoned the ball. His hour of practice-hitting was 60 full minutes of 100% I’ll-give-it-my-all tennis. He was Nadal-like intense — and this was just the warm-up. This ferocity and forcefulness makes Thiem the favorite in tomorrow’s final (plus, he carries a 7-2 win-loss record). 

Sascha Zverez, though, is no pushover. He has won the 2018 ATP Finals and, at 6-foot-6, his serve can exceed 140 mph. If he records a high first serve percentage, he’ll be difficult to stop. And remember this tennis adage: “He whose serve doesn’t get broken doesn’t not lose.”

SERENA. If the Big 3 are out, the Big One of women’s tennis was also booted out. After winning the first set (6-1) against Victoria Azarenka, who would have thought Serena Williams would lose?

This US Open has been peculiar and strange. No fans. No qualifying matches. No juniors. No Roger and Rafa. Six of the top 10 women opted to stay home. Djokovic throws a ball to the back and hits the line judge in the throat. A few inches off target and he — not Thiem — would be claiming the US Open trophy.

Categorized as Tennis
John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!

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