He is back. Three weeks after his fall in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, Dominic Thiem is back on the circuit this week, moreover in the position of outgoing champion in Vienna, a tournament particularly dear to the Austrian. He should therefore not lack motivation for this meeting, but will the world number 3 live up to his reputation, that associated with the nickname “Dominator” which he has been given?
Echoing that already given to his glorious elder Thomas Muster (“Musterminator”) and to the Hollywood saga embodied by Arnold Schwarzennegger, he contributed to giving Thiem, a real workaholic, the image of a physically inexhaustible player. But on the Parisian clay lately, the person has cracked on this plan. After showing signs of weakness against Hugo Gaston in the round of 16, it was finally against his friend Diego Schwartzman that he had given in, completely flushed out in the final round.
In search of a second wind and mental freshness
No, Thiem is not a robot. And it is not immune to running out of fuel either. Even if his powers of recovery are well above average, there is sometimes only one way to refuel: total rest. “I feel pretty good again. There was little time between the US Open and Roland Garros, but I managed this period well. I gave everything I had. I was obviously completely flat after Roland, so I took a week ‘off’ in which I did nothing. And I also had to analyze and look back on what I had accomplished at Flushing Meadows“, he explained before his entry into contention in Austria scheduled for Tuesday against the lucky Ukrainian loser Vitaliy Sachko (453rd world) who replaced Kei Nishikori, last minute package.
Crazy calendar requires, the world number 3 had not really had time to digest his New York feat. Even if he had passed an undeniable tennis milestone these last two seasons, he had not managed to “transform the test” until then in the Major final. His defeat after 5 sets in Australia at the start of the season against Djokovic had particularly affected him. So when the Serbian excluded himself from the race on the hard American, Thiem knew he should not let the opportunity pass. Hence his state of extreme nervousness during an almost tragicomic final against Alexander Zverev which he finally won in extremis to his great relief.
“The last 18 months have been phenomenal for me, but also very hard because I really put a lot of pressure on myself. I am of course super happy to have finally won a Grand Slam tournament, and that my biggest dream has come true. Things are a little easier. I feel a little more relaxed since I got there. I am happy and excited about everything that awaits me from now on“He also confided. To believe it, Thiem is therefore ready to reach new heights, and this from this tournament in Vienna.
The picture is incredible: this is probably the strongest ATP 500 ever played
But he knows it, not everything will depend on him. The cancellation of the Swiss Indoors in Basel, another ATP 500 usually scheduled in the calendar, allowed the Austrian tournament to bring together a field worthy of a Masters 1000. The world number 1 even made the trip for the first time since 13 years to consolidate its status. “It’s always special to approach a tournament as the defending champion. But this year the picture is incredible. It was already strong without Novak (Djokovic), and with him it became unreal. This is probably the toughest ATP 500 ever played. Defending my title is not mission impossible, but almost“, also considered the world number 3.
Nevertheless, Thiem intends to find in him an extra soul to achieve the double. “After the US Open I think it’s the biggest title of my career (he has the Masters 1000 Indian Wells to his list, however, Editor’s note). It is probably one of the richest in emotions, because I have known the tournament since I was 4 or 5 years old: I was a spectator who did not even understand tennis at the time. And year after year, I played the qualifications, I was invited to the big table, then directly qualified thanks to my ranking and seed. Everything that can happen in a career as a tennis player happened for me in Vienna, until I won in 2019.“
More relaxed, but less supported
To finish to be convinced of the importance of this week for him, it is enough to recall his victorious course of the last season. Very tense to start his matches, Thiem had been led three times (out of 5 matches) one round to zero before turning the tide and enforcing his status as favorite at home, especially in the final against Schwartzman. “Every game was sold out, the atmosphere was fantastic. And it was pretty dramatic too“, he remembered again.
This time, he will not be able to count on massive support, the gauge of spectators having been well reduced because of the coronavirus (1000 per day at the latest news). He also took the opportunity to attend a front row seat to the suspenseful match of his friend and compatriot Dennis Novak lost to Kevin Anderson on Monday. But relieved of the burden of expectations, perhaps it will be all the more dangerous? After a very accessible first round, Stan Wawrinka then Andrey Rublev, one of the fit men of the moment, could be offered to him even before the last four. Thiem should quickly be fixed on his ability to meet his ambitions. The dream final against Djokovic is still a long way off.