“I was nervous,” Dominic Thiem said with a smile in Vienna on Sunday. “I knew I had to get off to a good start.”
This is what happens, it seems, when you begin your race a few feet from the finish line.
Fifteen minutes earlier, Thiem and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had been tossed onto a court and told to play a 10-point breaker. No chance to get a service hold under their belts. No chance to shank a few shots or lose a few inconsequential points as they found their range. No second chances at all. Things proceeded so rapidly that Thiem and Tsonga had to be reminded to switch sides after six points.
But this was exactly what the afternoon in Vienna was supposed to be about: the shock of the new, the different, the disruptive and, most of all, the fast.
Thiem and Tsonga had joined Andy Murray, Goran Ivanisevic and Wimbledon folk hero Marcus Willis in an event called Tie Break Tens. On the one hand, it was a hit-and-giggle exhibition designed to drum up exposure for this week’s ATP event in Vienna. The players mugged for the crowd and answered questions on court. On the other hand, there was something real at stake: a $250,000 winner-take-all purse. You could understand why Thiem, who hasn’t made a secret of his desire to make money at his job, was a little anxious. But he settled his nerves quickly enough to take home the quarter-million-dollar prize.
There was also, embedded within the event, a philosophy. It was summed up by the slogan on the Tie Break Tens’ marquee: “Every Point Counts.” This might seem obvious, but it really is a change from how tennis is normally scored. Fans of the sport like to say that “some points are bigger than others.” The flip side, of course, is that some points must also be smaller than others. When you look back over the course of a match, you can see that many points—like the ace you hit while you were getting your serve broken—don’t contribute to the final result at all.