Barcelona 2019: Dominic Thiem surges past Daniil Medvedev for title No13
Dominic Thiem beats Daniil Medvedev in straight sets in the Barcelona final to win his 13th title
If their only previous match was any guide, the Barcelona final between No3 seed Dominic Thiem and No7 seed Daniil Medvedev would be a tussle to the bitter end.
It was in late September, just seven months ago, that these two battled for the St Petersburg title, and it went right to the wire, to Thiem, with a final-set tie-break. And bearing in mind that the bulk of Thiem’s victories at that stage had been on clay—eight titles from 11 titles—and all of them had been outdoors, that was a significant achievement for the Austrian against a man whose titles had all come at hard indoor arenas.
So coming into the clay season, the odds looked firmly in favour of the super-fit Thiem should they meet on the red stuff. But a month on, and the tall Russian had reinvented himself.
Medvedev had talked about a new intensity during his off-season training that had built up his stamina and fitness, and that work was paying huge dividends. He began the season with a final run in Brisbane, reached his first Major fourth round in Australia, and then heading indoors, won in Sofia and made the semis in Rotterdam.
Before this year, the Russian had won just two matches on clay, but that was all about to change. He made his first Masters semi in Monte-Carlo, beating both Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas along the way, and was now into the Barcelona final with an 8-1 record on clay this season. Most significant, however, was his overall record in 2019: He led all-comers in match-wins, 25-7.
His problem was that Thiem was also a man who, bit by bit, was ticking off new milestones. Aside from the fact that these two had notched up almost identical match-wins since the start of 2018—68 for the Russian, 67 for the Austrian—during that same span, Thiem had reached the Madrid final (clay), the Paris Masters semis (hard indoor) and won Indian Wells (the biggest Masters of the year, outdoor hard). He also made his first Major final at Roland Garros, and could count wins over Djokovic, Roger Federer and, with his remarkable performance in the Barcelona semis, Rafael Nadal in the last 12 months.
Now something had to give, but whose star would shine brightest on this concluding Sunday?
And what eventually seemed to give was the body of Medvedev. The Russian started well enough with a hold courtesy of a couple of net charges. He went after Thiem in the next game, too, in a long tussle as each adapted to the damp and cool conditions.
Medvedev had more zip in his flat ground strokes and took the initiative in the rallies as Thiem tried to probe with his sliced backhand and short drop shots. But the Austrian twice netted and conceded the break.
He stuck with his tactics, but netted more backhands: Medvedev held for a 3-0 lead. But gradually, the momentum shifted, and the Austrian began to master the slower conditions, adapt his shot-making, and got on the board with a hold.
It was not obvious straight away, but this would mark the start of a remarkable reversal of fortune. Thiem began running Medvedev ragged at the back of the court, stemming his power with repeated slice to open the court for a big forehand and, if required, a short drop or a volley finish. It was gruelling and ruthless against a man with so many matches in his legs, and so much tennis played fin the last fortnight.
Sure enough, the Austrian got his reward, a break to love. He continued the patience game, switching the pace and depth to great effect, to hold for 3-3, and then punished the Russian through another long service game, breaking at the second attempt.
Another love hold from Thiem was followed by a full-blooded attack on the wavering Medvedev serve, now down at 40 percent, but the Russian held on for now. However, it then became clear why the serve of the 6ft 6ins Medvedev was suffering: He called for a medical time out for attention to his right shoulder.
Thiem had no problem serving out the set, 6-4, and then the floodgates opened. Medvedev made more and more errors and resorted to his wide kicker serve rather than outright power—an open invitation to the aggressive power of Thiem. The Austrian broke, broke again, twice held to love, and broke one last time, garnering 24 of the 29 points in the set, to claim his 13th title, 6-0.
It was, then, a pale shadow of the two semi-finals that each man had played to get this far. Thiem, though, played the better throughout, and after his scintillating win over Nadal, was the rightful champion, but, as a rueful Medvedev said afterwards:
“Sorry… I need to say I tried my best today. But Dominic was too good. At one point in the second set, to win one point was a great achievement for me.”
He smiled, and he will be back on the clay as soon as that shoulder is repaired and his body rested. Indeed, with almost no points to defend until after the French Open, he can expect to break the top 10 sooner rather than later.
As for Thiem, could this be the launch-pad to still greater heights? His tennis against Nadal suggested it may by—and combined with his win over Federer in Indian Wells, he must surely be a contender to reach the French Open final again, if not win it.
The quietly spoken Austrian has taken time to evolve, to build a rounded game of variety, of power and of touch. More importantly, he has taken time to believe that he really does belong among the elite of the game. It has been a journey worth the watching.