June 15, 2020
Dominic Thiem took the first leg of the Adria Tour with some sparkling showmanship in Belgrade.
He conjured two sensational tweeners on his way to an undefeated tournament in Novak’s back yard.
And Djokovic was moved to tears as such rich tennis drama evoked memories of his childhood.
Some of the game’s biggest names did battle in front of a captivated crowd.
It gave us a hint of the fun we will have at Wimbledon 2021 next summer.
Tennis has a whole year to get ready for the biggest event of them all in England.
But it was great to see some of our favourite players strutting their stuff in Europe already.
Maybe we expected Djokovic to dominate on home soil.
But it was Thiem who came up with the most memorable moments – at big points in his tournament, too.
He set up match points in the final against Filip Krajinovic in thrilling style.
A tweener from the baseline stunned the Serb and turned into a winning pass.
Could Krajinovic have reacted more quickly on his forehand? Probably.
Either he was too shocked to move or he didn’t want to spoil the party.
At any rate the entertainment had reached its peak in front of 4,000 appreciative fans.
Thiem raised his fist in triumph, a smile spreading across his face.
The sheer joy of being a top tennis performer was encapsulated in these moments.
Domi milked the applause and breathed in the atmosphere. How we had all missed big-time tennis!
It was a tantalising glimpse. Just a few seconds later, the spectacle was over.
Thiem had beaten Krajinovic 4-3 (2), 2-4, 4-2 to earn the trophy in 76 minutes.
Short and sweet. The rules similar to NextGen. Maybe the drama was too brief, given our starved and voracious appetites.
But why was this particular Serb and not the biggest superstar taking centre stage anyway?
Mainly because Krajinovic had beaten Novak 2-4, 4-2, 4-1 earlier in the tournament. Not the way the script was written.
No matter, the show moves on to another venue, where more fans will gather to consume what thrills they can.
Sport, we were reminded, doesn’t always follow the original screenplay. That is part of its beauty.
And there will be many more surprises before the countdown begins for Wimbledon 2021.
But it will come as no surprise to anyone if Wimbledon 2021 outshines every other tennis party.
The All England Club is already looking forward to hosting stars like these once more.
And it’s exciting to think that Thiem will probably be at his peak this time next year.
He began as the quiet, nice guy of tennis. Gradually he became more confident, ambitious and outspoken.
Nothing wrong with that. Especially when Thiem’s increasing confidence gives rise to shots of exquisite, spontaneous invention.
The rally of the entire tournament came when Domi was closing in on victory against Grigor Dimitrov earlier in this welcome tennis-fest.
They had both been stretched back and forth before Thiem, under great pressure, conjured something simply magical.
Pushing himself forward, he wasn’t very far from the net when he shaped outrageously for a deft cross-court tweener, while facing the Bulgarian full-on.
This staggering piece of shot selection left Dimitrov scrambling hopelessly and unable to come close with his desperate return.
Thiem has rarely looked so delighted with something he has achieved. Fist in the air, the salute of the flamboyant crowd-pleaser. It was another string to the Austrian’s bow.
All the more remarkable because he had failed to impress at a recent home tournament, or find anything like this kind of intensity.
Thiem explained: ‘I played some matches in Austria, but this event was different. We had high-quality players and we played in front of a huge crowd.
‘You’re a little bit tight and you want to play better because you’re not just playing for yourself. You also want to give the fans a good show. So I was super-happy that I won all my matches.’
That looked unlikely when Thiem was three match points down against Dusan Lajovic. But he saved them all. The drama couldn’t have been much edgier than that.
Thiem now has a growing number of admirers worldwide. And they would love to see him shine like this when Wimbledon 2021 comes around.
Why not? He is fast becoming the complete player. His thrilling and versatile act should work increasingly well on all surfaces.
The two other biggest stars on show in Belgrade at the weekend will also receive massive welcomes at Wimbledon 2021 – one as reigning champion.
Novak Djokovic defeated Alexander Zverev 4-0, 1-4, 4-2 shortly before the final.
There was no free pass for the German – even though Novak had joked to Zverev while inviting him: ‘If you don’t come I’ll never let you beat me again.’
And there was no free pass to the final for Djokovic either. Not after Krajinovic earned his place on a winning game-average.
As Novak waved an emotional farewell to his home crowd, he wanted to make the reason for his tears crystal clear.
‘I’m not crying because I got knocked out of the tournament. I am just emotional because this reminds me of my childhood.’
He has come a long way since then. And tennis has already come a long way since all sports were suspended due to the recent global crisis.
Tournaments are popping up everywhere now. You can’t keep tennis down for long.
And nothing can keep us away from Wimbledon for more than a year.