In the third round of the Australian Open last month, Dominic Thiem mounted a fightback from two sets down against home boy Nick Kyrgios. Again down two sets against Grigov Dimitrov in the fourth round, Thiem couldn’t hit repeat.
He was candid after that loss that he wasn’t a 100 percent, even though he took nothing away from his Bulgarian opponent, adding that he wished Dimitrov “can make a great breakthrough at a Grand Slam”. And that was that.
Less than a month later, the Austrian is at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex for the Qatar ExxonMobil Open as the top seed and is hoping to forget what he referred to as a “pretty devastating loss”.
“It is going to be first matches, first tournament in a month since a pretty devastating loss at the Australian Open; I still had to digest that one, to settle everything,” the world No. 4 told a virtual press conference in the Doha yesterday.
“But I guess, that’s done now, and it’s time to focus on new things and the tournament here in Doha is the first chance to play better again, to get confidence, to get good results and to forget the pretty tough start of the season.
“I have had good preparations over the last weeks for this tournament, and it is going to be my last tournament on the hard courts for a pretty long time, so I will try to have some good results. But the draw is unbelievably strong, I will just try to have a good start, be there on a good level from the very first point.”
This will be the fourth time that the 27-year-old will play in the ATP 250 tournament in the Qatari capital, and first time since a forgettable exit against Frenchman Pierre-Hughes Herbert in 2019.
His best finish in Doha had also not ended according to plan as he pulled out of the semifinal against Gael Monfils in 2018 due to fever.
Joining Thiem at the tournament in the Qatari capital will be former world No. 1 and 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, who only a day earlier had spoken of the Austrian’s first Grand Slam win at the US Open.
Thiem said he was looking forward to the Swiss’ return to the Tour after a year’s gap.
“I think I speak for everybody, even though we are rivals and we want to beat each other in tournaments, but I just love to watch him play tennis. It looks so beautiful, it looks so nice the way he plays, the way he approaches the game of tennis. I am a big fan of him and that’s why I really love that he is back and I can watch him again. That’s pretty much what everybody’s thinking. I hope that he is coming back strong as well,” Thiem said yesterday.
While he did play after the ATP Tour returned post the Covid-19-enforced break, winning the US Open, reaching quarters at Roland Garros and in Vienna, before missing out on the ATP Finals title to Daniil Medvedev, Thiem felt the halt in action felt like it was longer than it really was. “…three years or something, felt like a very long time,” he said.
“Many things have happened on and off the court. Everyone was preparing for Indian Wells, and then the tournament was cancelled. In the beginning I thought that Tour is going to be back in 2-3 weeks, and everything is going to be normal again. But slowly of course me and everyone else realized that it is all very serious, a dangerous thing is going on and it is going to be a longer break. Memories are still very clear, but the daily routine of myself and all the athletes is back for months now, so feels a bit more normal, I guess.”
Thiem, who received a first round bye, is up against Russian wildcard Aslan Karatsev, who won his first round match against Qatari wildcard Mubarak Shannan Zayid 6-4, 6-0 yesterday, in the second round.
Karatsev had impressed many with his run through the qualifying rounds before falling to eventual champion Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open semifinals last month. The two players, who were born a day apart in September of 1993, have never played each other on the Tour.