Dominic Thiem predicts next season will witness new Grand Slam winners - ATP Finals interview

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He’s been improving his consistency year on year and leads all players on tour by reaching the quarter-finals or better at 14 tournaments in 2018.

World No. 8 Dominic Thiem is ready to make his third consecutive appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals, where he opens his campaign on Sunday against familiar foe Kevin Anderson (14:00 London time, 18:00 Dubai time).

The 25-year-old, who returns to Abu Dhabi this December for the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, advanced to his maiden Grand Slam final at Roland Garros this season and made a second Masters 1000 final in Madrid.

Considered the second-best clay-court player in today’s game, behind Rafael Nadal, Thiem showcased his versatility in 2018, winning his first hard-court title in more than two years by lifting the trophy in St. Petersburg and reaching his first Slam quarter-final on a surface other than clay when he made the last-eight at the US Open.

Sport360 caught up with the Gunter Bresnik-coached Austrian ahead of his first match at the O2 Arena in London.

You’ve qualified for the ATP Finals for a third straight year, what does that mean to you?

It’s a sign of good consistency which makes me proud of course. From the moment I was here the first time I realised it was such an amazing event and from the first time I wanted to come back here. That’s one big goal at the beginning of each season to make it here again and this year I had some troubles in the middle of the year and I only made a last-minute qualification actually, in Paris-Bercy and that’s why I’m super happy to be back.

Was it stressful those last few weeks of the season, or were you able to avoid thinking about qualifying for London too much?

Of course it’s stressful. It’s easier if I’m 20 in the Race and there’s no chance. I was always on the border somehow and the last tournaments were really stressful. Also thinking a little bit if Del Potro comes here or not and then at the end I made it by myself which makes it very nice.

How do you find the round robin format, what do you like the most and least about it?

Basically there’s only one thing that is good, but in the same way bad, because even if you lose one match or sometimes even two matches you can still make it and on the other hand if you win one or two matches it doesn’t mean yet that you’re in the next stage. That’s what makes it very different and very special and I think it’s the perfect format for this kind of tournament.

What’s the biggest lesson you learned this season?

I think it was the French Open final, because I played semis the two previous years but still I was pretty far from making it to the finals and this year in the final it was the first time in my career I came really, really close to my absolute goal which I’ve been hunting since I was a young kid and this was a special feeling and it had quite a big impact on myself and I didn’t realise how much I started to think about it and everything. It was a very good lesson.

You’ve had the best hard-court results of your career this season; was the main reason behind that progress on the surface more mental or technical?

It was mentally because I already won Acapulco two years ago and also I played well on grass two years ago, so I knew that I could play on other surfaces. Of course last year was exceptionally well on clay that’s why I felt somehow better there than on hard courts. But this year was really good on all surfaces except grass. And the end of the year was great with the title in St. Petersburg and I made my first ever semi-final on a different surface than clay at a Masters 1000, there was definitely progress.

What was the best moment of the season for you and what was the worst moment?

The best moment was I think still when I converted the match point against Cecchinato in the French Open to make my first Grand Slam final. And the worst one is when I lost the match in Kitzbuhel.

You played a great five-set match against Rafael Nadal in the US Open quarters, which you lost in a fifth-set tiebreak. Did it take you long to get over that defeat?

It was a very tough loss but it didn’t take me I think five minutes to get over it because I realised straightaway how great that match was, how amazing we both played for almost five hours and I straightaway realised that it was a great boost for the rest of the year or maybe for all my career so it didn’t take me very long to get over it.

This year, four of the nine Masters 1000 tournaments were won by non-Big Four players (Del Potro, Isner, Zverev, Khachanov). Do you think it’s a sign that we’ll see new faces as Grand Slam champions next season?

Yes, the change has to happen at some point and I think next year, or at the latest in two years we will see a different Slam winner again I think.

Was there a point in your career that gave you the confidence or convinced you that you belong among the world’s top players?

Actually it happened when I qualified last year for the second time here because the first time I was super happy to make it but at the same time I was never expecting to make it a second time because you have to play that well and consistently all over the year but when I made it for the second year in a row then I realised and I knew that I belong here and that’s how I felt.

Since you’ve been dating WTA player Kristina Mladenovic, you’ve probably got to watch a lot of her matches and have a better understanding of the women’s tour than before. Has that given you any new perspective on the importance of the WTA for tennis as a sport in general?

The only thing I can say is that I saw how hard she works, she’s working as hard as me and all her life is about tennis and about getting better and about practicing, same like me. I guess it’s the same with all the women’s. I think they all deserve to have a great tour as well.

If you’ve seen much of the Next Gen Finals, are there any rules from it that you’d like to see on the ATP tour?

First of all I really like to watch the Next Gen Finals. I think the let rule is pretty interesting and funny. To be very honest I don’t think there is a real need for linesmen. I think it worked great at the Next Gen Finals and there are probably way less mistakes than it is with the linesmen and it doesn’t look bad either. But I think we shouldn’t change everything but to make a test in some tournaments, why not?

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