He has been fighting fatigue for some time – and recently, a war with pressure made the battle even harder. Dominic Thiem has done everything he can to secure ATP World Tour Finals qualification. But as he exits the BNP Paribas Paris Masters in round two, has the 23-year-old’s heavy schedule hindered rather than helped him?
The final 700 metres of the Triathlon World Series in Mexico were more dramatic than anybody anticipated. Leading the race, Jonny Brownlee appeared to be in increasing difficulty as he neared the finish line, the hot and humid conditions becoming too much to handle. Wobbling to the sidelines, the Brit looked down and out. That is, until his third-placed brother – Alistair – rounded the bend. Retrieving his younger brother from the care of an official, he pulled Jonny’s arm over his shoulder, and proceeded to race alongside him down the final stretches. Rounding out a feel-good story that – as you are probably aware – went viral, the elder brother pushed his sibling across the finish line before him. Exhausted Jonny Brownlee could do nothing but collapse to the floor.
“I wish the flippin’ idiot had paced it right and crossed the finish line first!” Alistair said later on. “He could have jogged that last two kilometres and won the race.”
If this quote were taken out of the triathlon context, then it could be a reference to Dominic Thiem’s 2016 season. The 23-year-old’s year has looked extremely similar to Jonny Brownlee’s final race of the World Series. But in one contrast, we are yet to see whether another contestant will aid the Austrian across the finish line.
If he had considered it early enough, Thiem might have decided that he did not need to cram his 2016 schedule the way he did. Just as Jonny Brownlee is an established triathlete, tennis’ newest elite star has showcased his quality consistently since the beginning of January. Starting the year at world no. 20, the one-handed-backhander was up to world no. 7 by the first week of June. By the end of that month, he was a Grand Slam semifinalist, and a 2016 ATP title winner on every surface going. Clearly looking good to make the ATP World Tour Finals, he should have heeded the warning signs that culminated in a knee injury at the US Open. At the very least, he could have taken an extra week’s rest after Rafael Nadal joined Roger Federer in ending his season early – giving Thiem breathing space in the contest for London qualification.
But the current world no. 8 did not. And – perhaps consequently – the talented Thiem has lost five of his last seven matches. The latest of these was a 6-2 6-4 loss to America’s Jack Sock, in the second round of the BNP Paribas Masters on Wednesday. The day beforehand he had been competing in doubles. And on Wednesday, the no. 6 seed was almost expected to lose to the world no. 24.
One factor in Dominic Thiem’s most recent defeat? Surely it was panic. With several players fighting for the last two London berths, and Thiem himself on a downward spiral, his mentality – which has major control over the physical game – was always going to be difficult to dominate. Another factor in the loss? Most probably, it was the fatigue of a long, full, successful season – one which might not allow Dominic Thiem to produce his vintage best even if he does appear at the O2 Arena.
After his fourth round Flushing Meadows retirement against Juan Martin Del Potro, Thiem acknowledged that his enthusiastic schedule needed addressing. Unfortunately, the Austrian did not amend the issues the moment he had identified them. It was something he could arguably have afforded to do. Despite his past few weeks of sleep-walking, the four-time 2016 title winner owns an impressive 57-22 win/loss record on the year.
Dominic Thiem loves tennis. He eats, sleeps, breathes tennis, in a manner unlike any youngster we have seen on either the ATP or WTA tour in a long time. His complete and utter dedication to this sport is an example to rising and veteran tennis stars alike. To be a future world no. 1, Grand Slam champion and potential legend, you can never be too obsessed with your chosen field. Or can you?
Thiem’s heart for competition is definitely not a bad thing. Generally, it is a great thing. It has seen him put together an enviable season, which still contains plenty of room for short-term improvement. All the same, he needs to pay attention to his head as well as his heart in 2017 – or else he may soon be embarking on a wander akin to the one Grigor Dimitrov endured only recently. For someone like Dominic Thiem – who, it seems, dislikes to wait for anything – this would be a tough road to travel.
Thiem’s fans can hope that their man will be using the brake as well as the accelerator during 2017. But for now, the Austrian must sit back and watch – as Marin Cilic, Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and David Goffin decide whether or not his London dream continues.
Thanks for reading! Do you think Thiem’s schedule has been seriously detrimental to his London hopes? And if he reaches the Finals, can you see him making an impact? Share your thoughts in the comments section!