With Thiem’s 6-4, 6-3 win over Nadal in the Rome Open, he has become just the seventh player to defeat Rafa twice on clay. Have we found the new King of Clay?
Not A Replacement
When I say the King of Clay, I don’t mean to say that Thiem is going to be the next Nadal. No one, at least in the next fifty years, will be able to match the successes of the Toro, but Thiem could certainly come close. He’s already lost two finals this year (Madrid and Barcelona) to Rafa, but he got his revenge today with a clinical performance. While Thiem has yet to prove himself on other surfaces, he reached the semifinals of the French Open last year, and he’s certainly a dark horse for this year’s French Open, perhaps the second favorite only to Rafa himself. Thiem’s game is perfect for clay, a hard-hitting, aggressive playstyle reminiscent of Wawrinka.
Thiem may be the future on clay, but he has failed to truly prove himself on the other surfaces, and his game is not suited to the faster surfaces. In fact, this year, from the 4,035 points that Thiem has earned to make him number seven in the world, only 1,575 have come from hard court and grass, the other 2,460 coming on clay surfaces. Thiem’s game, a heavy-hitting baseline player who is capable of dealing with the topspin that Nadal so often throws at him, is especially suited for the clay, and while Nadal may have enjoyed his own share of successes on the other surfaces to say the least, it doesn’t seem like, at least for the moment, that Thiem’s game is as adaptable or versatile as that of the Spaniard.
Another criticism of Thiem is his incredibly packed schedule. He currently sits third in the ATP Race to London, having already played 12 tournaments on the year, often playing for weeks on end. Thiem has to be wary, though. He’s still young, and so his body will be able to withstand this constant playing for the time being, but as he ages and his body becomes more fragile, he’ll have to reduce his schedule. In fact, the toll taken on his body may have already had adverse effects on the young Austrian, and it’ll be interesting to see the longevity of his career compared to that of Federer, for example.
Thiem is the future of the sport, and he may just well be the first of the new generation of tennis players to truly break out on the scene and win a Grand Slam. He’s proven that he can beat Rafa when he plays well, already challenging him twice before in clay court finals this year, and he could very well be crowned Roland Garros champion in June.