MELBOURNE, Australia — Emptiness. Exhaustion. All-too-familiar feelings for Dominic Thiem after a Grand Slam final.
He has lost three on the biggest stage at the majors, adding a five-set loss to Novak Djokovic on the hard courts at Melbourne Park on Sunday to his two against Rafael Nadal on the red clay at Roland Garros.
Each time he’s come up against the greatest-of-all-time at that particular venue.
He had to beat top-seeded Nadal in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, then a fellow up-and-comer, Alexander Zverev, in the semifinals.
Just to get a shot at Djokovic, who had won all seven previous times he’d reached the Australian final, Thiem had spent almost 18 1/2 hours on court and beaten four seeded players through six rounds. Djokovic had spent almost six fewer hours in action, and had only dropped one set in the tournament.
“I’ve rarely felt physically (so) tired, especially now after all the tension’s gone,” Thiem said after losing 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 on Rod Laver Arena.
After recovering a break in the first set, Thiem surrendered it with a double-fault – his first. He rebounded and, from 4-4 in the second, won six straight games and took the next two sets, with his hard, flat ground strokes troubling Djokovic.
And then, after being one set from a breakthrough major title, the 26-year-old Austrian had to accept being runner-up again after a four-hour final. Even Djokovic admitted just one or two shots made the difference.
“I just feel a lot of emptiness right now. But, yeah, that’s it. I know the feeling,” Thiem said. “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.”
That’ll be in Paris, in May.
He reckons it’s just the fine details he needs to work on, and a bit of reshaping after honing his game specifically for the hard surface.
What made him most proud of his run in Australia, he said, was “the way I kept my level, the way I kept my tension over all the two weeks.
“I didn’t have easy matches, especially from the quarters on. Beating Rafa in over four hours, then two days later going back out again against Sascha. Unbelievably intense, close match. Then two days later going out again against Novak, who won the most titles here and again played on a very high level.”
That gives him a brighter picture for the future.
“I’m very aware and sure now that I can play on a very high level for a full Grand Slam,” Thiem said. “Didn’t have any drops – it makes me very confident for the next big tournaments which are coming up.”
Djokovic is among the experts who predict big things for Thiem.
“Congratulations to Dominic for an amazing tournament. It wasn’t meant to be tonight,” Djokovic said as he accepted the trophy. “It was a tough match. You were very close to winning it. You definitely have a lot more time in your career and I’m sure you’ll get one of the Grand Slam trophies … More than one.”
Thiem would like that to be sooner than later, obviously, and certainly while Roger Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are still contenders.
“I really hope also that I win my maiden Slam when they’re still around,” he said, “because it just counts more, yeah.”