09:43 AM GMT March 17, 2019
Dominic Thiem produced a special performance to claim the biggest title of his career on Sunday, surviving Roger Federer in the BNP Paribas Open final. The third time is the charm for the Austrian, who secured his first ATP Masters 1000 trophy in his third final appearance.
Thiem denied Federer a record sixth BNP Paribas Open crown, battling back for the championship 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in just over two hours. The 25-year-old produced an impressive display under the Southern California sun, storming back from a set down to stun the Swiss and leave everyone at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in awe.
"It's unreal," said Thiem. "It's a pleasure to compete against Roger in this great final. I lost my last two Masters 1000 finals, but I won this one and it feels as nice as a Grand Slam.
"It was a great week and I think also a very good final today. Just amazing that I got here, my first really big title. 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."
Thiem has long been touted as one of the most talented players of his generation, boasting a mammoth one-handed backhand and raw power that has left opponents on their heels and searching for answers. But the Austrian remained in search of a big title in his trophy case. Until now.
Thiem used his boisterous backhand to open the court and frequently rattle Federer throughout the final encounter, launching a total of 24 winners from all angles. As the match wore on, Federer lost his edge and Thiem found his. The Austrian turned the tables in a flash, finding a solution and eventually crossing the finish line after two hours and two minutes.
Having recently brought on former World No. 9 Nicolas Massu to join his team, the decision immediately paid dividends. After falling in the Mutua Madrid Open final in both 2017 (l. to Nadal) and 2018 (l. to Zverev), Thiem is finally enjoying his first taste of success on the elite stage. He is the first Austrian to win a Masters 1000 title since Thomas Muster in Miami in 1997.
It was Thiem's 12th ATP Tour crown in total and first on outdoor hard since the 2016 Abierto Mexicano Telcel in Acapulco. There have been 19 different champions in 19 tour-level events this year.
Moreover, the win gives Thiem just his second Top 5 victory on hard courts, having recently scored his first against Kevin Anderson at last year's US Open. It marks the conclusion of a stunning week in the Coachella Valley, which saw him not drop a set en route to the semi-finals, where he edged Milos Raonic in a riveting affair.
"I was in the zone the whole match," Thiem added. "I had to get used to Roger's game. In the first set he was playing amazing. It was completely different from my opponents before him. I was struggling to work my way into the match. I had to fight to save those break points early in the second set. It was a very good match until the end and I had to fight to serve it out."
Having been broken just twice entering the final, Thiem's serve came under siege immediately as play commenced. He would escape a 0/40 deficit with three Federer backhand errors but was unable to deny a fourth break chance.
At the age of 37, a spry Federer showed off his fresh legs at 3-1 in the opener, sprinting to the baseline to strike a tweener. And despite being broken back, the Swiss surged ahead once again, taking a 5-3 lead behind a sublime half-volley winner and ripped backhand return into the open court. He would seal the first set after 37 minutes, winning eight of eight points at the net.
Entering the match, Federer had won 20 straight finals when claiming the opening set. But Thiem had designs on stopping the streak, snatching a quick break in the second set. Federer missed five first serves in the game and suddenly Thiem reeled off 13 of 14 points to take a commanding 4-1 lead. The swing in momentum was swift and Thiem would force a decider without warning.
The Austrian claimed his first set on a hard court against Federer, needing 37 minutes to send the encounter the distance. He blitzed seven winners in the second set.
The margins were razor thin in the decider, with neither player yielding an inch from the baseline. But with Thiem serving for 4-all, the Austrian was sent scrambling to hold, forced to save a break point. And when Federer moved to within two points of the title at 5-4 30/30, Thiem once again had the answer to claw out of trouble - literally. After slipping and falling on the baseline, a bloody elbow resulted, but he would not be deterred.
Recent First-Time Masters 1000 Champions
|Dominic Thiem||Indian Wells 2019|
|Karen Khachanov||Paris 2018
|John Isner||Miami 2018|
|Juan Martin del Potro||Indian Wells 2018|
|Jack Sock||Paris 2017|
|Grigor Dimitrov||Cincinnati 2017|
And in the next game, Thiem tracked down two straight Federer drop shots, flicking a pair of cross-court passes to earn a break point of his own. A few minutes later, he found himself serving for the match. Thiem would claim his first championship point after two hours and two minutes, collapsing to the court in celebration.
Thiem will rise to No. 4 in the ATP Rankings on Monday, equaling his career-high position. He adds 1,000 points to his haul, as well as $1,354,010 in prize money. With the victory, he also moves ahead in the FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Federer at 3-2.
"I'm not too disappointed," said Federer. "I feel like he had to come up with the goods, and it did feel like to some extent it was on my racquet. I just came up against somebody who was on the day a bit better when it really mattered.
"That's how it goes. It's frustrating and disappointing and sad to some extent, but I have been in these positions so many times... I have been playing every single day for the last three weeks. I can be very happy and proud of that fact."
Federer was bidding for a 101st tour-level title and 28th at the Masters 1000 level. One year after falling to Juan Martin del Potro in the Indian Wells final, he came up just short once again.
It not only marked the first time the Swiss has lost a final from a set up since Wimbledon 2014, but the first time Thiem has beaten a Top 10 opponent from a set down since Stuttgart 2016. There, he stunned Federer in the semis.