Fresh from his maiden Grand Slam title at the US Open, Dominic Thiem has set his sights on further tennis glory.
A two-time French Open runner-up, the Austrian is aiming to upstage the likes of Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic at Roland Garros.
On the eve of the event, he looked back on his historic win in the Big Apple, breaking the run of tennis’ Big Three, and why he’s primed to make an impact in Paris.
What was going through your head after winning your first Grand Slam?
I have had a few days to let it all sink in and reflect. It feels no less wonderful than right after the triumph. It actually feels even better now that I have had a chance to shake off the fatigue. I now even dare to look back on the match against Sascha Zverev. It was impossible to do so in the first few days after that thriller of a final because it was simply too exciting and dramatic. I had the weird feeling that, if I reflected on it, I might still lose the match after all! Luckily, that has now passed and the victory still feels absolutely brilliant.
You have ended three years of dominance by the Big Three. Since Stan Wawrinka won the US Open in 2016, nobody except Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, and Roger Federer has won a Grand Slam. Now you have claimed your place in that group, how does it feel?
Being the first ‘new’ Grand Slam winner in what seems like an eternity feels really good. However, I would not claim to have ended the dominance. Novak, Rafa, and Roger remain favourites in every tournament they compete in. Even next week, when the French Open starts in Paris, Nadal and Djokovic are the ones to beat.
How was the tournament in general at Flushing Meadows?
The whole tournament, including all its trappings, was, of course, extraordinary and required some getting used to. The US Open of 2020 was a very special Grand Slam tournament. The Flushing Meadows Arena was completely devoid of spectators and remaining inside the “bubble” required a coronavirus test every three days. The daily schedule played out between the hotel and the tennis courts. I did not even see New York, not even a single short trip into the city. Everything was focused on tennis, maybe even too focused without a real chance to clear your mind. That was very challenging because you were never allowed out. From a mental perspective, those four weeks were extremely demanding for me and my team. The fact that the conditions were so unique almost makes this year’s victory a touch more special.
When looking back, at which point did you start sensing that winning this US Open tournament was more than just a possibility?
The faith that I could win a Grand Slam tournament was something I had long before the US Open. That is why I put myself under so much pressure. Moreover, I harboured the belief that my first Grand Slam victory could happen at this particular US Open throughout the tournament. Naturally, the circumstances changed when Novak Djokovic was eliminated from the tournament. From that moment on it was crystal clear… there will be a new winner. I knew the player who could cope best with the pressure would win this Grand Slam title. I did not handle the pressure particularly well in the final, but I managed to turn the game around in the end! It was just incredible.
Following the disqualification of Novak Djokovic, the general public considered you the new favourite. How did you manage to deflect the pressure and remain focused?
I knew I had a great chance of winning the US Open provided I played really well and managed to perform at my top level. I was able to block out the fact that this was the best chance to win a Grand Slam tournament in the quarter-final and semi-final stages. The final, however, was really tough for me mentally. I honestly think I have never been more nervous and tense before a match. Fortunately, I was able to turn the tide just in time and beat Sascha Zverev in a tough fight over five sets.
What is your next goal?
The answer is quite simple… the French Open starting this weekend. It may even be to my advantage that the next Grand Slam takes place so soon after the US Open. Now that I have won a Grand Slam final, I can finally tick off one of the biggest aspirations of my career. Starting immediately, I am fully focused on my clay game and the French Open. My goal is to start into the first round of the tournament 100% fresh.
Should Rafa be worried ahead of the French Open? Does he need to change anything given the temperatures will be lower than in summer!
The temperatures could be the only real reason why he may need to change. Naturally, everyone was a little curious to see how Rafa would play at the Masters tournament in Rome. If he comes into the French Open in good shape, he is always the favourite to win in Roland Garros not least because he has already won the tournament 12 times. Obviously, I would be very excited about playing against him.
What else would you like to say to your fans? They cheered you on in Austria, more often than not tuning in in the middle of the night…
First of all, I would like to send a huge thank you to all tennis enthusiasts who cheered me on, especially the fans who stayed awake deep into the night and probably sacrificed one or two work days. The fans at home are always very important to me. They may have been even more valuable than usual at this year’s US Open because, knowing that there are so many people watching on TV at home, definitely helped me secure the title at the Arthur Ashe Stadium.