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Tennis Star Dominic Thiem Is “SuperMan” • Does He Play U.S.Open Or Kitzbuhel? Or Both?

Dominic Thiem of Austria holds his first place check of the bett1ACES tennis tournament held at hanger 6 of the inactive Tempelhofer feld airport, in Berlin.

By Alix Ramsay

We live in strange times. Yes, I know that has been said many times in past five months but we are not talking about the merits of mask wearing or of the new etiquette of social distancing here, we are simply talking about tennis. And these are certainly strange times.

For a start, Dominic Thiem appears to have developed new superpowers since the tennis lockdown started in March.

Back then, he was merely a three-time grand slam finalist who had had the misfortune to run into Rafa Nadal twice at Roland Garros and Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open. But now that tennis is edging its way into the spotlight again, our man Domi has found a new way to mop up titles: he can be in two places at the same time.

Dominic Thiem of Austria in action during his Final match against Jannik Sinner of Italy of the bett1ACES tennis tournament.

The ATP announced the field for Kitzbuhel on Tuesday, and very proud of the names on the entry list it was, too. With Thiem in pole position, the world No.3 was billed to be joined by Sascha Zverev, Matteo Berrettini, Andrey Rublev, Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime to name but a few. In all, 17 of the world’s top 31 are down to play in Austria. No wonder the ATP is excited.

The Generali Open is due to be held at the same time as the second week of the US Open. And, at the time of writing (things change minute by minute these days), all of the above mentioned were still on the US Open entry list. So, either these much-lauded champions-in-waiting are planning on tripping over their rackets in the opening rounds in New York or they are planning on pulling out of Kitzbuhel at the very last minute. Either way, it is not a good look for them or the sport.

Dominic Thiem of Austria iin action against Jannik Sinner of Italy during their semifinal match at the bett1ACES tennis tournament.

All of this is music to the ears of the marketing boys. Assuming the Austrian government is still willing to allow fans on site come September, those boys will be able to get socially distanced bums on immaculately sanitised seats in no time. The opening day centre court tickets are just €10 a pop and only go up to €62 for the final – they are cheap at twice the price. However, there is one, tiny, little cloud on the horizon. And, no, it is not Covid-19.

For Thiem, it is a particularly difficult problem. He is the defending champion in Kitzbuhel and as Austria’s No.1, he is the crowd’s darling. Yet he has waited and worked and worked and waited for his chance to win a grand slam trophy. So far, the big boys just won’t let him do it but with two of the Big Three officially out of the US Open (and with the third of the gang still making his mind up), this could be Domi’s moment to shine. Even so, he does not sound too enthusiastic about going to the US Open.

Dominic Thiem of Austria in action during his match against Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain at the exhibition tennis tournament Thiems 7, in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

“You have to be honest, some of the top players will definitely cancel,” Thiem told Der Standard in Austria over the weekend. “That means that a possible way to get far in this tournament would be worth less than normal than it was in Australia.”

It seems that it is not so much the idea of catching the dreaded virus that is worrying the players (they are young, they are fit, they think they are invincible. Oh, to be that young again…) but, rather, it is the problem of getting back to Europe in time for the clay court swing that is the major concern.

Initial reports last week in the Spanish newspaper, Marca, that the ATP’s top 20 were thinking of boycotting the Open unless the quarantine issues with Europe are resolved appear to have been addressed. On Friday, the Italian government waived the quarantine rules for all players returning from New York provided they have tested negative for Covid-19 in the 48 hours prior to their arrival in Rome.

Dominic Thiem of Austria iin action against Jannik Sinner of Italy during their semifinal match at the bett1ACES tennis tournament.

Yet a number of players – Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Ash Barty, Nick Kyrgios among them – are still not willing to take the risk and head stateside. And when you read the USTA’s liability waiver form, you can see why. But if you want to compete, you have to sign on the dotted line.

The form reads: “I acknowledge that the risks involved with entering the facilities and being in the presence of other people during the Covid-19 pandemic include, but are not limited to, contracting Covid-19, respiratory failure, death and transmitting Covid-19 to family and household members who may also suffer these effects. I further understand that compliance with the Covid-19 protocols will not eliminate these risks… Notwithstanding the foregoing, I elect to voluntarily participate in entering the facilities with the full knowledge that doing so may be hazardous to my health and those with whom I may come into contact.

“I voluntarily assume full responsibility for any risks of loss or personal injury, including serious illness, injury or death, that may be sustained by me or others who come into contact with me, as a result of my presence in the facilities, whether caused by the negligence of the NTC (National Tennis Center) or otherwise.

“I understand this is a release of liability and agree that it is valid forever. It is my express intent that this waiver binds: (i) the members of my family and spouse, if I am alive and, (ii) my heirs, assigns and personal representatives, if I am deceased.”

In other words, come here at your own risk and if you die, you die. But don’t go thinking you can pin a thing on us – your potential demise will not be our fault, guv. It won’t be now and it won’t be any time in the future, not even if hell freezes over. But do come anyway; we’d love to see you. Heaven knows, we need the money; we’ve got that bloody great roof over centre court to pay for…

Dominic Thiem performs during a training session on a clay court in Vienna, Austria, 28 April 2020.

So, assuming that everyone is willing to sign their soul – and the souls of their nearest and dearest – away, that the infection rates in Europe fall or, at the very least, stay stable, and that the various European governments do what the players want, we would appear to be back up and running.

That just leaves poor old Thiem – which title does he want more? The US Open or Kitzbuhel? These are, indeed, very strange times.