He captured his second title of the season in Umag last Monday and is considered one of the tennis tour’s most promising young prospects. The 21-year-old Austrian, Dominic Thiem, is enjoying a career-high ranking of No24 this week and is one to watch at the US Open next month, where he made the fourth round last season.
With a low-key attitude, Thiem may not be as flashy as his fellow up-andcomers like Nick Kyrgios or Thanasi Kokkinakis, but his powerful game and steady progress could see him go far in the next couple of years.
He’s also armed with a stellar coach, Austrian Gunter Bresnik, who previously worked with Boris Becker. Sport360 caught up with Thiem to find out more about the talented youngster.
How does it feel to be a title winner this season having won in Nice in May and now in Umag last Monday?
I think it’s very important for the self confidence because it was a pretty tough start for me this season, so I’m happy that I managed to turn it around.
Did you feel a lot of pressure of expectation this season, especially with many people tipping you as one of the youngsters to do well on tour?
For sure, yes. Because I had a good rise last year, I had nothing to lose but then of course the expectations go up.
I had some trouble with it at the beginning of the season to defend all the points in my second year, but I think I’m handling it better now.
Last year, you faced Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, which was your first experience on a centre court at a grand slam. How do you look back on that?
I think it was a really good experience for me to play Rafa last year because I played some very good matches before that, so everybody was expecting a little bit (of me).
But not me, because I knew how tough it was to play him in Paris on Centre Court. It was a big lesson for me.
What did you learn from it?
I learnt everything, I think. He was just better in everything, so I knew that I had to improve every part of my game.
What do you consider your biggest strengths?
I think I’m a very powerful player, I can hit good groundstrokes.
I can hit winners in every minute and every position and I think that’s very important that you can play fast nowadays, that you have a big serve and good returns.
Is there a specific match or experience you feel has given you belief you can make it as a pro?
Not really. I think you have to improve every day a little bit, so you don’t have one day where there’s a big thing coming.
Growing up, when did you realise you wanted to do this for a living?
I always wanted to be a professional player but when I started playing well in Challengers and for the first time I did well at ATP tournaments, I saw that these guys are also beatable.
So, I realised I could make a career out of this.
You’ve been with the same coach, Gunter Bresnik, since you were 11-years-old. How would you describe your relationship with him?
It’s a very special relationship. I’m very thankful that he gave me all his time in my career.
I trusted him all the time and he made all my important and good decisions in my life.
What’s his coaching philosophy?
I think his practices are very hard. The groundstrokes are very important and long practices to simulate the match very well.
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What’s it like sharing Bresnik with Ernests Gulbis?
There’s many advantages. One disadvantage is when you play each other, it’s tough of course.
But I think for both of us it’s very good because we always have a hitting partner and we can practice together, we don’t need to find one. We are two very different characters, which I also think helps us.
Gulbis is quite the character. What’s it like hanging out with him?
He is a character but he is also different on the tennis court compared to how he is off the court.
He is a really nice person and it’s enjoyable to spend time with him, to talk with him, to go to dinner with him.
Have you learnt much from him?
When we started to practice together I was like 700 in the world.
The way it went up for me when I started practicing with him is enough to be very thankful to him.
You made the Roland Garros junior final. What’s the transition like from juniors to the men’s circuit?
You can’t compare it at all because it’s even tough for juniors to play Futures.
I think you need a couple of years to get the level to compete in men’s events at slams.
How did you initially get into tennis?
My family are tennis coaches and they always brought me to the tennis club.
I basically had no other option than to start playing tennis.
They coached me a little bit when I was young, and then I switched to Gunter.
You’re a Chelsea fan. The club has lost several iconic players who have played for them for a very long time. Does it feel like the end of an era to you as a fan?
Yes, I feel really sad about it because some of them, Didier Drogba and Petr Cech, they were at the club when I became a fan like 10 or 11 years ago.
I’m really happy about the young players. When you’re a fan of the club, you’re going to be a fan forever and of course there are endings and beginnings of new eras.
Rafael Nadal will launch a new attempt Tuesday in his quest to recapture form as he opens his campaign in Hamburg, a tournament he has not competed in since 2008.
Nadal, now ranked No10 in the world, has not played a clay tournament post-Wimbledon since 2007.
But the Spaniard is hoping he can regain some of his confidence with a successful showing on the clay courts of the ATP 500-level tournament this week before shifting his focus to the North American hard court swing leading up to next month’s US Open.
“I haven’t been here since 2008 (when it was a Masters 1000 played in May). It’s obvious that normally this time of the summer I take it to relax and to practise a little bit for the hard court season,” said Nadal.
“This year the situation is obviously a little bit different. I’ve been losing more than in the last 10 or 11 years. So I feel my body has asked me to be playing and I’m here.”
The top-seeded Spaniard faces a tricky opener on Tuesday against his countryman and fellow lefty Fernando Verdasco, who may have a 2-13 losing record against Nadal but has triumphed in their two most recent encounters in Miami last March and Madrid three years ago. Nadal has won just two titles this season at the lower-tiered events in Stuttgart and Buenos Aires, and will be playing his first singles match today since crashing out of the second round at Wimbledon at the hands of Germany’s Dustin Brown.
Asked how long it took him to get over that defeat to Brown, Nadal said: “It doesn’t matter how long it took me, at the end of the day it wasn’t an easy loss for me.
“A tough one because I felt that I did the right things to be ready for it, playing Stuttgart and Queen’s and having a positive week of preparation there before the tournament started. But I played bad in that match, I was not competitive enough to get through and I lost.
“The last six months I have been losing a little bit more than what I have been used to the last 11 years. So I just accept the new situations with the right attitude and keep working to try to be at a good level again. It’s been a tough one, obviously, but life continues.”
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