Dominic Thiem takes 'huge step forward' in Abu Dhabi with final win of 2017
World No 5 beats Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-4 in exhibition match at Mubadala World Tennis Championship
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 Busta in an exhibition match at the International Tennis Stadium at Zayed Sports City on Saturday.
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 in 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 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 last 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 play-off.
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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Djokovic on Saturday also pulled out of the Qatar Open, while world No 1 Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from the Brisbane International, and both Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka are struggling for fitness.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 acknowledged 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."
Updated: December 30, 2017 05:50 PM