Seen as someone who can challenge the Big Three’s hold on Grand Slams, Austrian tennis star Dominic Thiem will be among the title favorites going into the Australian Open next year.
Having already opened his Grand Slam tally with his maiden crown at the US Open this year, the Austrian knows he has the game to win Majors and not be overawed by the Big Three – the combined name for Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic – who have a staggering 47 Grand Slam titles between them.
With Federer having already withdrawn from the year’s first Major, citing fitness, Thiem has one less serious competitor to worry about as he plots his second Grand Slam title at the Melbourne Park.
So, who are the ones standing between the Austrian and a successful Australian Open campaign?
Well, there are the usual suspects in Nadal and Djokovic.
The Serb will be bidding for his ninth crown at the Melbourne Park, which will put him alongside Martina Navratilova on the record books for the second-most number of Major titles won in a single event after Nadal’s 13 French Open trophies.
Navratilova, for the record, won her nine titles on the lawns of Wimbledon.
The Spaniard, on the other hand, will be gunning for his sixth at Melbourne Park. He is no longer a hard-court bunny as he used to be when he started out and his five Australian Open titles and four more at the US Open would testify to that.
While the duo won’t be pushovers for Thiem, the beaten finalist last year has a decent head-to-head record against both of them and will fancy getting the better of them at the Australian Open.
The Serb currently holds a narrow 7-5 head-to-head lead over the Austrian, while the win/loss tally against Nadal currently stands at 9-6 in the Spaniard’s favor.
However, Thiem will take loads of confidence and belief from his wins over Djokovic, who will go into the Australian Open as the defending champion, and Nadal at the season-ending ATP Finals in London this year.
Among the other title challengers that he may run into at some stage of the tournament are Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Diego Schwartzman.
Not to forget Jannik Sinner and Andrey Rublev, who are quite capable of causing an upset or two, if not going all the way.
Medvedev had a phenomenal title-run in the tail-end of the 2020 season, which saw him winning the prized Rolex Paris Masters and the ATP Finals. Also, he was only the fourth player in tennis history to beat the Top-3 players (Djokovic, Nadal and Thiem) at the same event.
What’s more, the Russian currently holds a 4-3 head-to-head advantage over Thiem.
None among Zverev, Tsitsipas and Schwartzman had a 2020 season to remember and will be determined to get their new season off and running with a championship win at the Australian Open.
As for Rublev, he had a breakthrough 2020 season, winning five Tour titles, the most of this calendar. Though he is yet to cut his teeth into Grand Slams, the Melbourne Park could well be the stage for him next year.
At 2-2, the Russian and the Austrian have the same number of wins against each other.
Thiem’s strength is to stay on the baseline and trust his groundstrokes as opposed to net play, and one suspects he should stick to them.
The Austrian has shown good court hard court acumen with championship wins at the 2019 Indian Wells Masters and the US Open this year and will find the concrete surfaces at the Melbourne Park to his liking.
As to whether he will tick all the boxes and come out a championship winner at Melbourne Park is something that only time will tell. For now, here’s wishing him a second Major at the Australian Open.