What if we’ve already seen the last of the best of Dominic Thiem? What if that’s it? What if the best we can hope for is to watch a man who once played and beat world beaters attempt to recreate that form without conviction or confidence or really anything close to what he had?
This is not an obituary of a career. Don’t dare suggest that. The Thiem fans participating in prayer circles, rest assured I’m there with you, spreading the smelling salts, chanting Bible verses, trying to ward away the demons. I’m warding with you all, I promise. This is merely me questioning what the worst would mean for him. To do so doesn’t breach the contractual obligation we all signed up for when we became fans of this. I know this because I’ve checked. Read the small print and had a lawyer look over it. So I’m in the clear.
I think I actually sort of hate the way I love watching him currently because there’s a scary relatability to be found from doing so, a nostalgic sense of clawing onto a past version of ourselves that we think we preferred. Change is part of life but the process of adapting to it is big and blocky and just a bit ugly scary. It doesn’t help that his game seems warmly familiar but weaker, as though it’s been stripped of its identity and forced to go about its business as usual. So he’s there on the court but at the same time, he’s not really. It’s like someone’s cheated him, left him bereft of his belief, almost abandoned to accept where he now finds himself. His eyes scan the crowds often these days, looking for answers amongst the upper stands and further up still, towards the sky and the clouds and any possible gods up there known for granting miracles. I’m not sure we’re at the miracle-is-the-only-hope stage just yet but we’re getting there. We’re getting there.
And so what if there is none then? What if it doesn’t get better and this is it for Thiem, consigned to attempt to replicate a game of gold with a paper mache body? Well, if it is, it’ll be described as a tragedy, so brief was his peak, but what a briefness it was! A major, a masters, matches of brilliance against players of historical note. Thiem will carry those things with him for life even if he is to achieve nothing much more at the top flight. The vast majority get nowhere close and that too in an era that was crying out for fresh faces and pressurised those that had potential to step-up. Thiem did, standing repeatedly to be counted out by many. He lost a fair amount too, doing so in a way that fashioned sympathy and gained him fans because at least he had the heart to keep trying to make things happen.
And he did! He did make things happen. Maybe not as much as some had hoped but many more than some ever expected of him. His greatest achievement came under the umbrella of the world being shut down and so it stands alone as a test of mentality that even those with more titles can never claim. Dominic Thiem won a major with nobody watching which many will perhaps see as sad but circles itself as unique. His detractors rush to asterisk this tournament and I’d implore them to do so. Asterisk all you like. In the big book of tennis history, there are many many many major titles but only a few with an asterisk. I’d want to read about those ones first.
He’ll be a what-if but there’s nothing wrong with that. What-ifs make for interesting fireside chitchats, endless debates that go in circles because what’s really even the point of them and more to the point, does it even matter if there’s a point to them or not? Points make conversations too serious in my experience. Talk about hypothetical silliness. You can thank me for the fun you’ll find in doing so later.
If the best has passed and Thiem’s endgame is here, he’ll play it until it finishes and the credits roll and he’ll show us how he feels while doing so. He’ll shatter us as his efforts fade and he falls through the floor and out of sight and he’ll drag us all down with him. He’ll devastate and anger us, have us cursing his luck that decided he didn’t need more but I think in the end, he’ll smile with what he got. We’ll cry and he’ll smile.
I know, I know, this is all a bit over the top but I find that’s pretty fitting for an overdramatic penguin like Thiem. I think he’d love to know the worry he’s causing his fans currently, the care and desire we have for him to get a bit more life from his travels. I think all of this works because at the very centre of Thiem’s brand is an emotional intensity that borders on tender brutality. Afterall, his entire thing was being a gentle explosion.
What if we’ve already seen the last of the best of Dominic Thiem? But then again, what if we haven’t? What if there’s more? What if it clicks and falls into place and it all makes sense again amidst a rebirth that cries and screams and makes itself felt once more?
What if…Embed from Getty Images
2 thoughts on “Dominic Thiem and The Last of the Best?”
It’s pretty sad. Whenever I think of Domy, I think what he is going through is not physical, it’s mental. I hope he is finding happiness in whatever few matches he is winning and it instills confidence in him to regroup for one last ride.
But even if he does not, he has achieved far more than anyone on the tour has. He has done it. He can take his time and try it out. But even if it doesn’t lead to anything, he has already given a lot to us. He doesn’t owe us anything more.
Interesting take Scott. Well written.