Four years ago, Dominic Thiem arrived at the BNP Paribas Open having endured a disastrous start to season. He left as a champion, defeating Roger Federer to capture his first ATP Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells.
Another title run this fortnight might seem ambitious for the current world No. 102, but the former US Open champion certainly comes in hoping for a strong run in the desert to again snap him out of a funk.
“I came there playing wise in a really bad situation,” Thiem said on Wednesday. “[I was] not playing well and I was not expecting anything and then slowly somehow, I started to play better and better, winning matches. I got a little bit lucky. Gael Monfils had to retire in the quarters and then I happened to win the tournament. If people knew how I would have felt and played before Indian Wells they would be very surprised that I ended up winning.”
Thiem arrived in Indian Wells in 2019 struggling for form and fitness. The 29-year-old held a 3-4 record on the season, having suffered first-round exits in Doha and Rio de Janeiro and a second-round defeat at the Australian Open.
However, he quickly found his best level, not dropping a set in his first three matches before he received a walkover from Gael Monfils to reach the semi-finals.
“After Rio I decided to go early to Indian Wells, to prepare myself physically and with my tennis,” Thiem said. “It was a good decision because from being not fit at all and playing really bad in two weeks I was giving myself a great chance to play great tennis and fight all the match, because I was physically fit.”
With confidence restored, Thiem defeated Milos Raonic in a three-set battle to advance to his third Masters 1000 final, where he faced Federer.
“For me it was an unbelievable week and I was going into the final relaxed against Roger, who was the favourite and playing well back then,” said Thiem, who lost ATP Masters 1000 finals in Madrid in 2017 and 2018. “I wasn’t putting any pressure [on me] because before when I played the first Madrid final I was putting pressure on myself because I wanted to win this first [ATP Masters] 1000. It was different in Indian Wells. I was just enjoying those two weeks, enjoying my tennis and that is probably a reason why I ended up winning.”
A thrilling final saw Federer clinch the first set, before Thiem rallied to earn a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 victory. It was a moment in his career he reflects fondly on.
“The first set there was exactly why Roger is so popular and why people love to watch Roger so much. He was toying with me,” Thiem said. “He was playing at his best level. He was doing whatever he wanted and when he is at this level, it is impossible to play him. I was just hoping he would have one weak game in the second set and he had it and I broke and then the match was kind of opening. I am also happy I witnessed this first set, it was an unbelievable experience to play against someone playing such good tennis.”
Thiem will play Adrian Mannarino in the first round on Thursday, aiming to earn just his second tour-level win of the season.