By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Dominic Thiem spent weeks in lockdown haunted by his near-miss at last year’s Australian Open but all those regrets were banished after his U.S. Open breakthrough, the Austrian said on Saturday.
Thiem pushed Novak Djokovic to five sets in last year’s final at Melbourne Park before the season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
His loss to the Serb was Thiem’s third defeat in a Grand Slam final and there was little for the 27-year-old to do but stew over it while locked down as the pandemic swept through Europe.
He ultimately managed to put things right when the season resumed, beating Alexander Zverev in a thrilling decider at Flushing Meadows to claim his maiden Grand Slam title.
“I was thinking so much about that tournament, especially about the lost finals in the first part of the lockdown,” Thiem told reporters at Melbourne Park.
“It was not a nice thought because maybe it was the best tournament I’ve ever played.
“Well, the U.S. Open title, it deleted everything somehow.
“But now I just try to recall all the positive memories and positive energy from last year.”
Bookmakers rate Thiem second favourite behind Djokovic to win in Melbourne, and pundits expect the Austrian to double his Grand Slam tally before long.
Younger rivals like Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev are also expected to make inroads into the Grand Slam club.
Thiem, however, felt Djokovic and 20-times Grand Slam champion Rafa Nadal would not go quietly.
“If these two guys are competing at a tournament, I think they are still the top favourites,” he said.
“A little bit ahead of the other players, including me.
“I think, especially Novak here in Australia, because he won it eight times, he’s the top favourite for the title, no doubt.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)