No top player played more tennis matches in lockdown than Dominic Thiem. In a 6-8 week period the Austrian played in around 30 matches but on his first match back on the ATP tour at Cincinnati which was held in New York no one probably played worse than he did.
I can’t think of many Dominic Thiem performances that were as bad as it was against Filip Krajinovic where Thiem won just a dismal 2/34 points on Filip’s serve.
2/34 points won on serve from a tournament favourite is unheard of but a major part of the problem was he was in a position he wasn’t used to and that was returning inside the baseline.
This was his second serve return position against Krajinovic in Cincinnati:
Extremely rare that Dominic Thiem will be anywhere near the baseline to return serve. Not a clue what he was doing up here. It seems to be a common miss-conception that a higher return position means a better chance of controlling the rally but it’s anything but that. For Thiem to be knocking about one metre inside the baseline returning Filip’s serve which averaged 100kph and win 0/12 points was a big problem.
Run onto the US Open and his match against Sumit Nagal and it’s totally different:
Sumit’s second serve was around 136kph on average. The Austrian from his position vs Krajinovic was around 6 metres deeper returning and over 4 metres behind the baseline.
It wasn’t just down to speed being greater but this is Thiem’s natural position returning serve.
It’s what he does, he will often mix it up mid-match, I think he is very good at realising mid-match what he needs to change up and has stepped up or dropped back if it isn’t going to plan.
I find the criticism of Thiem’s return position bizarre, one journalist criticised it as ludicrous but why is it? It works for him, it’s how he plays. It is super effective on a clay court but in the last twelve months he has been a winner at Indian Wells and runner-up at the ATP Finals and Australian Open.
Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka have adopted a similar if not at times deeper return position so why don’t they get criticised and called out for ludicrous positioning?