Thursday April 22, 2021
Tennis almost a minor matter
The nasty crash of the next superstar
It was only a good seven months ago that Dominic Thiem won the US Open final against Alexander Zverev. Since then, the Austrian has struggled with a worse opponent, his head. Acted as the next superstar, Thiem now apparently has to win a completely different fight.
Dominic Thiem met this ruthless opponent completely unprepared. And that in absolute high spirits. First the memorable US Open final with the five-set win against Alexander Zverev, then in the final of the ATP Finals – the Austrian seemed ready to climb the tennis summit. But his worst competitor so far appeared out of nowhere: his head.
“I fell into a hole in preparation for this season. There is a certain emptiness,” said the 27-year-old in an interview with the Viennese “Standard”. And Thiem is still crouching down there.
Corona, lockdown – all of this has hit the world number four Dominic Thiem badly. His old life was suddenly over, especially the clear structure. “As long as I can remember, I have had a completely planned life,” said Thiem, “every day, every week, every month is divided up. I feel better when I know what will happen the next day. That is gone at the moment.”
But not only that. Games without spectators, ghost games without an atmosphere, the end of freedom of movement – a waiver that Thiem suffers from extremely. “Corona has taken the nice things that stay bad,” he said. “There are guys who put it away, for them life in the bubble is probably even an advantage,” says Thiem, but he can’t cope with it.
Thiem is not alone
And it’s not true in the head, nor is it true on the pitch. He has lost four out of nine games this year. Most recently in Dubai in mid-March with 3: 6, 4: 6 against a certain Lloyd Harris, at this point number 81 in the ranking. For someone like Thiem, who was traded as a future superstar, usually at best a build-up opponent. The fact that he was handicapped by small problems in his left knee was certainly not the reason for his failure. It sat lower, or better said higher, on the shoulders.
In view of the general circumstances, Thiem has lost some of his enjoyment of tennis, and the pandemic has also caused a certain alienation. Like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, he registered a loss of motivation. A fateful emotional cocktail for a sensitive person like Thiem, for whom the door to the top is still open when it comes to sport.
The French Open are now Thiem’s ”big goal”, for which he is starting his comeback at the Masters tournaments in Madrid and Rome. And then he wants to clean up the living room of the 13-time champion Rafael Nadal. At the French Open, “I want to be fully competitive,” he said. And an Olympic medal in Tokyo, “that would be an absolute dream.”
Germany tennis icon Boris Becker believes that he can only do all of this “if he finds a different approach to better deal with pressure.” Thiem’s environment was asked, and he had to make that clear to him in front of Paris, said Becker at Eurosport: “Boy, you are one of the top favorites.” Thiem’s head now only has to understand that.