Dominic Thiem might just be the most explosive offensive force on the ATP World Tour, an oft-overpowering baseliner whose “Dominator” nickname seems an ideal fit. When he really gets around on a ball on the forehand side, the concussive result produces a sound not unlike that of a mortar round.
But if there’s one dig on the Austrian, it’s been his scheduling. Last year, Thiem played 28 tournaments — more than any other player in the Top 25. He played no less than 82 matches, winning 58 of them, along with four titles (Buenos Aires, Acapulco, Nice and Stuttgart). In doing so, he cracked the Top 10 (the youngest to do so since Milos Raonic in 2013) and qualified for the year-end ATP Finals. Though he’d reach the first Slam semi of his five-year pro career at Roland Garros, his exhausting slate may have cost him further second-week success at the majors.
“Nobody hits the ball bigger than he does,” said of ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert of Thiem, who earlier this year won the Rio Open. “His forehand is massive, and for a guy who's not that big [6-foot-1, 180 pounds], he can serve in the low 140s. He's got an impressive game. The biggest thing for him is to figure out his schedule. It seems like a few of the majors he's played a little too much coming in, and he hasn't been as sharp. The big thing is learning how, for these young guys, to be able to peak for the majors. Obviously, the great players know how to do it, so the biggest thing is learning that for these young players. But game-wise, I think he’s the most explosive offensive player.”
“I don’t think I’m going to do it forever, but it’s worked out really well for me,” said the World No. 9, who is 16-6 thus far in 2017, including his run to the fourth round this week at the BNP Paribas Open. “It was a big goal to stay in the Top 10, and the only possibility was to win Rio. I did it, so it was very good. On paper, I’m No. 5 in the [Emirates ATP Race to London], and I’m still in the Top 10. So it works out very well. But for sure I’m not going to do it forever, and I’m not going to do it throughout the whole year.
“I think this year I’m going to cut it down to 23, 24 events,” he continued. “I decided not to play Kitzbuhel, for example, but to play Washington, which is much better for the following events in Canada and Cincinnati. It’s one bad jet-lag lesson, and I think this is going to help me a lot.”
At the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, the player Novak Djokovic once called “a leader of a new generation” has quietly knifed his way through his quarter of the draw at an event otherwise spellbound by the so-called 'Group of Death'. Following a first-round bye, he topped Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-2, 6-4 and resurgent German Mischa Zverev 6-1, 6-4. He next faces another explosive force, France’s Gael Monfils, bidding to reach his fourth ATP Masters 1000 quarterfinal. He’s 2-0 against Monfils, including a 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 win at the 2016 ATP Finals.
“My first priority is just to develop the right way,” said Thiem, whose game is often compared to that of German veteran Tommy Haas, still an active touring pro who’s doubling as the BNP Paribas Open’s new Tournament Director. “If I see myself now and I see myself the same time last year, I think that I’m a better tennis player. That’s the most important thing to me.”
Though he speaks of paring down his schedule, it’s a catch-22: he could surely benefit from the occasional break, but when you’re a confidence player like him, you feed off your success on the court. When it comes down to it, he’ll take match play over training blocks any day.
“I like practicing. I like being at home. But this just helps my confidence,” he asserted. “I was struggling in the beginning of the year until Rotterdam. I came to Rio with no preparation on clay and won the tournament. This win somehow turned things around. I’m way more confident again. I’m playing more tournaments to find my game, to build up my confidence again.”