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Is Dominic Thiem the best active player yet to win a major?

leyeaduloju in Features 20 Mar 2020
Dominic Thiem (PA Sport)

With three Grand Slam finals and a current ranking of No. 3, is Dominic Thiem the best active players yet to win a Grand Slam title?

Grand Slam titles have belonged to a very exclusive group over the last two decades, with the Big 3- Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic- maintaining an iron grip on the majors. Counting from Federer’s first major title at Wimbledon in 2003, those three juggernauts have won a staggering 56 of 67 majors, leaving almost nothing for the rest of the pack.

Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray have been the best of the rest, sharing six Slams between them, while Marin Cilic and Juan Martin del Potro are the only other active players to hold Grand Slam titles.

Thiem came agonizingly close to joining the Grand Slam club in February, but he fell short against Djokovic in a thrilling five-set final. The Austrian looked shell-shocked and nervous at the start, and was a couple of points from going down 4-0 in the opening set, but once he settled into the occasion, he played his part in what became an epic final- one that he probably should have won.

The 26-year-old had momentum and control when led by two sets to one, with Djokovic looking mentally unsettled and physically hampered, but like these great champions have done over the years, the Serbian somehow wrestled the initiative away from Thiem, and found a way to win.

Thiem had his chances against Djokovic in Melbourne (PA Sport)

Thiem has now lost three Grand Slam finals, the other two at Roland Garros, which now begs the question- is the Austrian the best active player yet to win a Grand Slam title? Well, the simple answer to this question is “Yes”.

It’s easy to get lost in recency bias, but there are enough facts on grounds to back this claim.

 

He is the only active non-Grand Slam champion to have reached multiple major finals

There are a few other active players who have reached Grand Slam finals without winning, but Thiem is the only one of the lot that has contested multiple major finals. The other active players to have made a Slam final without getting over the line are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (Australian Open 2008), Kei Nishikori (US Open 2014), Milos Raonic (Wimbledon 2016), Kevin Anderson (Wimbledon 2017) and Daniil Medvedev (US Open 2019).

With the exception of Medvedev, Thiem has player fewer Grand Slams than every other player on this list, but he has managed to make more finals, across two surfaces as well.

Top-ten consistency

Thiem first broke into the top-ten in June 2016, and has been a member of that elite group ever since in an impressive spell of consistency. His three-and-a-half-year streak in the top-ten is by far the best amongst active players yet to win a Grand Slam title, and with the rankings to be frozen until June, Thiem’s stay in the top-ten is set to extend well beyond the four-year mark.

Thiem’s career-high ranking is also as good as anyone else’s. There have been other non-major champions in the top three- Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Alexander Zverev- but none has been higher that Thiem’s current ranking of No. 3.

Tour titles

Thiem won his maiden Masters 1000 title at Indian Wells last season (PA Sport).

Thiem may still be awaiting his first major, but the Austrian has been racking up the titles elsewhere. With 16 career titles, the world No. 3 is currently second amongst active players yet to win a Grand Slam title. Only Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, with 18 has won more than the Austrian.

Tsonga turned professional in 2004, seven years earlier than Thiem. It is only a matter of time before the Austrian overtakes the Frenchman. Below is a list of active players to have reached at least a Grand Slam semi-final (but are yet to win a Slam) and have won at least five ATP titles.

 

PlayerNo. of titles
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga18
Dominic Thiem16
Richard Gasquet15
John Isner15
Kei Nishikori12
Alexander Zverev11
Gael Monfils10
Sam Querrey10
Roberto Bautista-Agut9
Grigor Dimitrov8
Milos Raonic8
Fernando Verdasco7
Daniil Medvedev7
Kevin Anderson6
Lucas Pouille5
Stefanos Tsitsipas5

 

*Ernests Gulbis, Kyle Edmund, Matteo Berettini, Pablo Carreno Busta, Marco Cecchinato, Hyeon Chung and Jerzy Janowicz- all of whom have made Grand Slam semi-finals- are not included on this table because they have won less than five ATP titles.

 

So will Thiem eventually win a Grand Slam title?

“I’m sure you will get more than one of the Grand Slam trophies”

Those were the words of Novak Djokovic to Thiem after February’s Australian Open final. While such encouragement may appear empty at times, there’s certainly plenty of evidence to support Djokovic’s assertion.

Thiem is arguably the closest of all active player players to break the Grand Slam duck, and with the improvements he has made over the last year, moving away from his clay-court comfort zone to become a genuine threat on quicker surfaces, that first major looks set to arrive sooner rather than later. It will be tough- the Big Three are still very much around, and the younger guns, spearheaded by Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas are banging at the door- but Thiem, at 26, is at the peak of his career, and looks the most likely to become the newest major champion in the nearest future.