Dominic Thiem rallied from a set down to deny Roger Federer a record sixth BNP Paribas Open title as he claimed his first Masters 1000 crown.
Often maybe dismissed as purely one who will eventually triumph on the big stage on the clay, Dominic Thiem sprang the second shock of the tournament as he stunned Roger Federer to win a maiden Masters 1000 title.
Thiem had been a finalist twice in Madrid and of course was the Roland Garros finalist in 2018. But the gritty surface in Indian Wells has often rewarded those who do well on traditional clay courts, and so it would be the case.
However, it did not start out that way, as Thiem found himself down 0-3 rather swiftly at the start of the match. Even when he did peg Federer back, the fine-time champion broke again to regain the advantage, before serving for the first set.
Thiem, who had a walkover in the quarter-finals was the first to make his chances count in the second set, taking the lead and not losing that edge to level the match. The decide was incredibly competitive with both men holding comfortably for the first seven games until Federer let a break point chance go. Thiem was not so generous, taking his one chance in the third set to go up, and serving out for a first Masters 1000 title.
For the second time in a row, Federer was edged out of a record sixth title in Indian wells in a three set thriller, but he could still be pragmatic about the result, with a quick turnaround to come in Miami.
Federer told reporters: “It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong. The return he hits on the return, on the line at 5-Aall, that’s the one I needed, and I couldn’t produce that. Why is that? I mean, you can start looking, digging so deep, and then you end up getting lost, rather than just saying he played maybe a little bit better when he really had to.
“That’s why I’m not too disappointed. I feel like he had to come up with the goods, and it did feel like to some extent it was in my racquet. You know, just came up against somebody who was on the day, you know, a bit better when it really mattered.”
Of course it helps when you have just had the high of winning your 100th career title the week before the Sunshine Double.
Federer continued: “That’s how it goes. Sure, it’s frustrating and disappointing and sad to some extent, but, look, I have been in these positions so many times that I get over it very quickly.
“At the same time I’m happy for Dominic, winning his first Masters 1000, as well. It’s a massive event to win. Like you said, I just got my 100 in Dubai and I had a good week here. Really, there is no reason to get down. Plus there is more to look forward to in Miami.”
‘Turned it from really bad into really good’
For Thiem, the start of the season has been one to forget, but as we start to build up towards the clay court season, and even allowing for the similarities to clay on a slow gritty hard court, there was still an air of disbelief for the young Austrian.
He told reporters: “It feels just unreal what happened in this ten days during the tournament. I came from a really bad form in all categories, and now I’m the champion of Indian Wells. It feels not real at all.”
The grip on the big titles, Masters and Slams from first the Big Three of Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, followed up by Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, made for absolutely no room at the top.
But now, there is hope – even among the slightly older generation now being chased by the Next Gen players.
Thiem continued: [Federer’s] such a legend. And for all of us younger players, it’s really a privilege to still be able to compete with him and to play against him in the finals of big tournaments like this one.
“First of all, it’s great to play against him. I think with every match against somebody like him, I can learn a lot of stuff. I mean, the way he was playing in the first set was unreal. I had to get used to it. That’s why it’s so nice. That’s why I hope and we all hope that he continues for quite a while still.
“It’s tough against Roger, Rafa, Novak, and some other guys, because you have to beat not only the player but somehow also the great aura they all have, all these titles they have won. So you have to play somehow double good to beat them.”
Of course it is worth noting that Thiem has beaten Federer twice (on clay and grass) and now can add the clay-esque courts of Indian Wells to that, taking the lead in their head to head.
He continued: “I always said that I love the conditions here. It’s pretty similar to clay. It’s a pretty slow hard court with a good bounce, especially during the day.
“What makes me happy that I turned pretty bad start to the season to a very good one. I’m back in the top 8 in the race. I’m 4 in the rankings, which is my best ranking. So I turned it from really bad into really good.”