Thiem takes ‘huge step for­ward’ in Abu Dhabi with fi­nal win of 2017

The National - News - - SPORT - GRA­HAM CAY­GILL

Do­minic Thiem signed off his year with vic­tory over Pablo Car­reno Busta, say­ing his fi­nal time on court at the Mubadala World Ten­nis Cham­pi­onship was “a huge step for­ward” fol­low­ing an un­der­whelm­ing end to the 2017 sea­son.

The world No 5 lost in the semi-fi­nals to Kevin An­der­son on Fri­day but took some con­so­la­tion with a 6-3, 6-4 vic­tory over Carreono Bus­tain an ex­hi­bi­tion match at the In­ter­na­tional Ten­nis Sta­dium at Zayed Sports City yes­ter­day.

The Aus­trian strug­gled in the sec­ond half of 2017 af­ter reach­ing the semi-fi­nals of the French Open, with his best per­for­mance af­ter that be­ing a quar­ter-fi­nal at Cincin­nati in Au­gust.

Asked how he felt about the state of his game head­ing in 2018 af­ter his two matches in Abu Dhabi, the 24-year-old said in his news con­fer­ence: “Com­pared to the last tour­na­ments of the 2017 sea­son it was a huge step for­ward, I would say. I did al­most ev­ery­thing bet­ter.”

Thiem dom­i­nated his match with Car­reno Busta, the world No 10, with a sin­gle break in both sets prov­ing enough to clinch vic­tory.

The match was an ex­hi­bi­tion rather than the sched­uled third-place play-off ow­ing to No­vak Djokovic pulling out of the tour­na­ment on Fri­day to al­low more time to re­ha­bil­i­tate the el­bow in­jury that has side­lined him since June.

That had given Roberto Bautista Agut a bye to the fi­nal, so with no los­ing semi-fi­nal­ist for Thiem to face, Car­reno Busta agreed to fill in and play hav­ing lost to An­der­son in the quar­ter-fi­nals on Thurs­day, and then on Fri­day to An­drey Rublev in the fifth-place play­off.

Thiem said he was grate­ful he was able to squeeze in one more match and was pleased with how he had per­formed.

“Very happy with how I served es­pe­cially,” he said. “But I think in gen­eral it was a good thing from both of us to play one more match be­cause it was not sure af­ter No­vak pulled out.

“It is re­ally good to have one more match against a top 10 guy be­fore the sea­son.

“So it was per­fect prepa­ra­tion and I am also quite sat­is­fied with way that I played.”

Djokovic pulled out of the Qatar Open yes­ter­day, while world No 1 Rafael Nadal has with­drawn from the Bris­bane In­ter­na­tional, and both Andy Mur­ray and Stan Wawrinka are strug­gling for fit­ness.

Mur­ray played a one-set ex­hi­bi­tion match against Bautista Agut in Abu Dhabi on Fri­day.

Thiem said that the po­ten­tial ab­sences of some of the game’s big­gest names could open up the chance for him to chal­lenge for his first grand slam win at next month’s Aus­tralian Open, but it was up to him to cap­i­talise on it.

“It is very early in the sea­son, and we also have to step up and we have to go well in the tour­na­ment and start off well,” he said.

“But many guys who are out last year, they also pulled out here or in Doha, so for sure, of course more chance for us if there are less strong play­ers.”

Do­minic Thiem fin­ished the 2017 sea­son on a high note

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