At present, Dominic Thiem is considered the 9th favorite to win the 2017 Us Open with bet365's betting odds. He is surely considered a peripheral threat because the Austrian has yet to emerge as a major factor in any Grand Slam with the exception of the French Open. At the age of 23 (he'll be 24 in September), he still has plenty of time to make a name for himself on the hard-court surface. On that matter, one striking change with those that are familiar with the Austrian's career is that he has decided to skip ATP Kitzbuhel this week in favor of ATP Washington.

Based on the national stages and the relative surfaces between the tournaments, that certainly hints at a change in direction for Thiem.

Thiem, an Austrian with clay-court ability

ATP Kitzbuhel is a low-tiered clay-court tournament played in Austria. This year's event lacks a player in the top 25 and it also lacks a serious home-country favorite (ie. a high-ranked Austrian). Both of those factors promise to hurt the local interest in the event.

Between 2011 and 2016 inclusive, Thiem was a mainstay in the draw. As Austria's top-ranked player in recent seasons, he has been both highly ranked and a home-country favorite entering the event. That always made ATP Kitzbuhel a targeted stop on tour for Thiem over the years.

Furthermore, given Thiem's penchant for winning clay-court matches, it has been all-the-more natural that Kitzbuhel would be his tournament of choice.

Thiem's decision to go to Washington

Not participating in a home-country event that offers a surface that is to your preference seems like a strange decision for Thiem to make.

Kitzbuhel is Austrian and it's on clay, while Washington is American and on cement. Thiem's decision to play in Washington this week can only signify a recognition that if he ever wants to take his ranking to a higher level, then he will need to start doing more damage on the hard-court surface.

The clay-court season and clay-court events are important, but the hard-court surface is the dominant surface on tour.

A player that turns in only mediocre results on the cement will not stand much chance of staying in the top five. To date, Thiem has never been ranked higher than 7th and it's mainly his hard-court results that are the problem.

Thiem is certainly an interesting player when one looks at the top ten. Using tenths of a year, his current age is 23.9 and his current ranking is World No. 7. Alexander Zverev, Nick Kyrgios, and Lucas Pouille are the only players younger than Thiem in the top 25. However, Thiem currently outranks all of them and in the cases of Pouille and Kyrgios, by quite a lot.

If the change in scheduling from Kitzbuhel to Washington is accompanied by improved results on the hard-court surface then Thiem is one to watch. He is third on year-to-date rankings, well behind both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. However, Thiem also has 12 years of youth on Federer and about 7 years on Nadal. Federer and Nadal aren't exactly made of glass, but they are injury prone and in need of relaxed schedules at these late stages of their careers.

That being the case, a scenario where Thiem finishes the year as the top-ranked player still takes a little bit of a stretch. Firstly, he has to start showing that he's not all about clipping lines on dirt. Then he would probably need to either defeat both Nadal and Federer in big tournaments or benefit if they bump into injury problems.

Those aren't developments that can be discarded.

But what shouldn't be discarded either is the fact that Austrian Thiem gave up home cooking in an Austrian clay-court tournament to duke it on cement in the American capital. He's a player to watch in Washington, Toronto, and Cincinnati ahead of the US Open. The only players on tour that have been more consistent this season are Nadal and Federer. If Thiem can mount a challenge to them on the hard-court surface, then he could take the ATP by storm. It's still too early to count him in the race to the year-end top ranking, but he should certainly be on your radar.