If you came in after the first few games of any of Dominic Thiem’s matches last week in Acapulco, you might have thought the young Austrian had turned into the Marco Rubio of tennis. For those of you who are (blessedly) unfamiliar with the race for the Republican presidential nomination in the U.S., that means he was sweating through his shirt, his shorts, his socks, the grip on his racquet and maybe even his sneakers. After watching Thiem play three times, I began to wonder if he pre-soaked his clothes before each match.
But nothing—not the Mexican heat, not the 14 matches in three weeks, not the switch from clay to hard courts in Acapulco, not a tricky final-round opponent—could stop Thiem. He beat Bernard Tomic, 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-3, to win his second title in three weeks, push himself to a career-high No. 14 in the rankings and make a statement about his chances of reaching the World Tour Finals in November. Thiem is currently all the way up to No. 3 in the race to London, trailing only Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. His 18 match wins lead the ATP.
Thiem’s triumph was a fitting way to close out February, a month when the men’s tour received a much-needed injection of new blood. Alexander Zverev, 18, Taylor Fritz, 18, and Nick Kyrgios, 20, all turned heads and reached early-career milestones. But it was the 22-year-old Thiem, who is one or two steps farther along the learning curve than his younger tour-mates, who made the deepest and seemingly most lasting inroads.
Just as impressive as Thiem's titles is the fact that he beat Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer on clay this month. If we saw a faint glint of generational change in February, much of it came from these two matches. Thiem followed those wins by beating a player of his own generation, Grigor Dimitrov, in straight sets in Acapulco, a tournament that Dimitrov won two years ago. Thiem's title there was both a crossover and a step up: His four previous tournament wins had come at 250-level events on clay; Acapulco was a 500 on hard courts.