Dominic Thiem has officially expelled his “clay-courter only” narrative this season. The Austrian won just two of his ATP co-leading five titles on red dirt and recently captured his first 500-level title indoor at Vienna. He even owns a notable 4-2 record over his Sunday opponent, six-time ATP Finals champion Roger Federer.
Thiem has won their last two meetings: most recently in the Madrid quarterfinals, which came after his impressive victory over the Swiss in March's Indian Wells final. To the untrained eye, Thiem might appear to be the favorite. He’s not.
According to 10-year tour veteran Denis Kudla, who has played Federer twice, “Roger has the best first-serve to first ball combination of all time, he always keeps you off-balance and guessing."
On a quick court, in perfect conditions, opponents are at the whim of Federer’s unparalleled ability. Thiem will need to find an answer to Federer’s constant pressure, or risk reliving the same lopsided result that happened at last year’s ATP Finals, where the 20-time major champion taught Thiem a 67 minute masterclass in indoor tennis. When rushed on his backhand, Thiem abandons his time-consuming windup and blocks the ball back without his usual spin or pace, a shot Federer will destroy. If the world No. 5 finds a forehand, he must go big, needing to gain control of the point in whatever manner possible.
Thiem is too accomplished a player to completely discount, but Federer’s lifelong 296-68 record indoors compared to Thiem’s 46-33 mark does not bode well for the 26-year-old. The oddsmakers would agree, as Federer is the second biggest favorite in the opening set of round-robin meetings. Winner: Federer