The new US Open champion also etched his name into the record books by becoming the first player in the Open Era, which began in 1968, to rally from two sets down and win a final at Flushing Meadows
With Federer and Nadal not traveling to New York, and Djokovic suffering an ignominious disqualification in the fourth round for hitting a line judge with a ball, a golden opportunity was presented to the tournament’s remaining players to become the first new men’s grand slam champion for six years.
Eventually, amid all the headlines about players who weren’t at the US Open, Thiem was the one able to hold his nerve.
“I cannot realize it yet, but it’s definitely the biggest goal in tennis what I achieved, winning a slam title,” he told CNN Sport’s Patrick Snell. “There is nothing better than that and all the hard work paid off and also all the hard work of my family, of my team.
“They made so many sacrifices. They drove hundreds of thousands of kilometers with the car to bring me to practice and I think today’s also the day where I gave back a lot.
“It’s a huge day for me, but also for everybody who was involved basically since the beginning of my life to get to moments like this.”
Given the absence of the ‘Big Three’ from the latter stages of this tournament, questions will continue to be asked of the younger generation of players — known as the ‘NextGen’ — until they start to win major tournaments regularly.
However, Thiem says the absence of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic only exacerbated the pressure of winning a first grand slam, rather than alleviate it.
“Nobody really from us players talked about it,” Thiem, the son of tennis coaches, said. “It was somewhere in the back of our heads when the moment arrived, when Novak was out, because, of course, it increased the chances of the eight remaining players.
“But it also but also put a huge amount of pressure on each of us because the chance to win this title was a little bit higher than to win the title if the ‘Big Three’ are around.
“Everybody knew that and that was not easy. Well, the next slam [French Open] is just around the corner and two of the big three are back there again, but I guess that Sasha, me and three or four other guys are really almost with them from the level and it’s going to be interesting how it develops.”
With 16 career titles to his name prior to the US Open and a career-high ranking of No. 3, Thiem was widely considered the most likely of the NextGen stars to win a grand slam title.
The 27-year-old has reached two of his three grand slam finals since welcoming former professional Nicolas Massu, the only man in the modern era to win gold in singles and doubles at the same Olympics, onto his coaching team at the start of last year and has enjoyed a stark improvement to his game.
But following defeats in all three — at the 2018 and 2019 French Open finals and the Australian Open final at the beginning of this year — Thiem admits that doubts about whether he’d ever win a grand slam started creeping into his mind.
“There are always doubts after every single final, after every of these three finals are lost there was doubt because I didn’t know if there was ever a chance to come back [to another slam final] as the level in tennis is a super high,” Thiem, who made his ATP Tour debut in 2011, said.
“I mean, if you’re not on your top, you can lose to anybody in the draw and the same doubts were here before the match and also so during the match: ‘What happens if it goes 0-4? What happens if I don’t take this chance? Will I ever get another chance again?’
“So there are always doubts and it’s a big, big relief that, well, these doubts are gone now.”