Dominic Thiem has been among the top 3 clay court players in tennis since 2018. His 2019 Indian Wells win and World Tour Finals runner-up demonstrated that he can also post big results on hard courts. Thiem knows what it is like to win a big match vs. each member of the Big 3 yet taking out his clay-court nemesis on a slowish hard court had to be particularly satisfying.
For years, those who follow tennis have wondered when younger players would displace the Big 3. Thiem’s win does not do that (two of the Big 3 are still alive and Rafa is still #1 in the world). However, the belief that it can be done is a prerequisite to it happening. Thiem was able to beat Rafa in large part because he did not let break deficits become set losses. Also, Thiem kept his cool after losing the 3rd set and seeing the finish line move from 8-points to one set away. Finally, Thiem did not let failing to serve out the match haunt him when serving at 5-6 in the 4th set.
The match may have been over had Rafa won the 4th set from 3-5 down by running off 4-consecutive games. Instead, Thiem held for 6-6 and played a good tiebreak to take the match and book his spot in the semifinal round. This sort of character building and confidence affirming win cannot be overvalued. Thiem is still at least 6-long sets away from a first major title, but his ability to weather storms is undeniable.