Exclusive interview with Dominic Thiem: “It would be great to come back to the top, but I don’t think Santa can help me with that; I’ll need to work for it myself”

The Austrian, who turns 30 later this year, speaks to Tennis Majors about his season so far, his new team and what’s on his wish list for Christmas this year

Dominic Thiem during the 2023 BMW Open in Munich Dominic Thiem during the 2023 BMW Open in Munich Image Credit: Imago / Panoramic

It’s been a long, arduous road back to the top 100 for former US Open champion Dominic Thiem. The 29-year-old returned to the tour in March 2022 after a nine-month layoff due to a serious wrist injury and dropped out of the top 300 by July.

After ending the 2022 season on a strong note, Thiem once struggled at the beginning of 2023 but is finding his groove once again, reaching the quarter-finals in Estoril and Munich and extending world No 5 Stefanos Tsitsipas to a third set tiebreak in Madrid in recent weeks. Now back in the top 100, the former world No 3 has decided to skip the Rome Masters this week and instead play the ATP Challenger at home in Mauthausen, where he won his first round match on Tuesday.

In an exclusive interview with Tennis Majors, Thiem spoke about his season so far, his split with coach and close friend Nicolas Massu and the new team that he has been working with, his passion for the environment and his wish list for Christmas this year among other things.

Tennis Majors: : Hi Dominic. You have reached a couple of quarter-finals in recent weeks as well as won matches at both the clay court Masters events this season so far. With the French Open just a few weeks away, how are you feeling about your game right now?

Dominic Thiem: I feel good, much better than at the beginning of the season. Over the last month, I have had great intensity during practice, spending five hours or more per day on the court. The matches in the last few tournaments have also boosted my confidence. Now, it’s important to maintain this level of hard work and continue improving every day. I want to return to the top, and although it won’t be easy, I will give it my all.

Tennis Majors: Your last match against Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Madrid Open was one of the best matches you have played this year and must have given you plenty of confidence. Now that you have had some time to process things, what are your takeaways from that match?

Dominic Thiem
Dominic Thiem at the Rolex Monte Carlo Masters (Antoine Couvercelle/Panoramic)

Dominic Thiem: The match against Tsitsipas was very good, and I realised that I can once again compete with the best players in the world. However, I also saw my mistakes, such as too many return errors, and not being able to maintain my level in the second set. Of course, I was disappointed that I didn’t win the match, but overall, it was a good performance. I am working hard to correct these mistakes, and I see improvement every day.

Tennis Majors: What has been the biggest thing you have learnt about yourself as you have embarked upon this comeback journey since last year?

Dominic Thiem: I have learned that nothing comes easy, and success requires hard work, perseverance, and self-belief. After winning the US Open, I lost some of my inner drive, having worked towards that goal for 17 years. Then, the injury occurred, and suddenly I wasn’t ranked in the top three or considered one of the best players in the world. I dropped in the rankings. After much reflection, I found a new goal and reignited my passion for tennis. I love going out on the court, practicing hard, and competing. I strive to improve every day, never giving up.

Tennis Majors: How frustrating has it been to be playing well but not getting the results that you may be desiring in terms of big wins and titles?

Dominic Thiem: Honestly, at the beginning of the 2023 season, my body and playing level were not up to competing with the best players, and it was frustrating. However now, it’s improving day by day, and I need to continue on this path.

For his age, Alcaraz’s skills are exceptional, with great shots, speed, and mental strength. He’s also a nice person. I’m sure he’ll win more Grand Slams.

Dominic Thiem

Tennis Majors: During your time away from the sport and now a year into your comeback, three youngsters have really stepped up as big stars and performers in the men's game – Carlos Alcaraz, Jannik Sinner and Holger Rune. What do you think about each of them and the new generation of men's tennis players coming up?

Dominic Thiem: These three players are incredible in their own right, with unique playing styles. Alcaraz is currently playing exceptionally well, winning many matches, including his Grand Slam title. For his age, his skills are exceptional, with great shots, speed, and mental strength. He’s also a nice person. I’m sure he’ll win more Grand Slams.

Sinner is a fantastic person, friendly and calm. I can even speak German with him as he grew up close to the Austrian border. He’s a great player and athlete, and I think he’ll be at the top for a long time with the potential to win Grand Slams. Rune is also impressive, and I played against him in Monte-Carlo. He’s incredibly fast and can take early shots, disrupting your rhythm. He has the potential to be one of the best players in the upcoming years.

Tennis Majors: You are often described as one of the nicest guys on the tour. Who do you think would win in a Mr. Congeniality contest between you, Andrey Rublev and Grigor Dimitrov?

Dominic Thiem: That’s a good question. Andrey Rublev and Grigor Dimitrov are both incredible players and great guys. I enjoy spending time with them on tour, and we always have some fun moments. However, I don’t think there should be a winner or a loser in that contest.

I changed my entire team because I felt that I needed new input

Dominic Thiem

Tennis Majors: You have been working with a new team in recent weeks – a new coach, a new physio and also a new management team. Can you tell us what went into those decisions and how have the first few weeks/ months been on that front?

Dominic Thiem: I changed my entire team because I felt that I needed new input. Separating from Nicolas Massu was a tough decision, as he wasn’t just my coach, but also a good friend. We spent a lot of time together and had great success, winning the US Open. It was important for us to stay friends after our split. I also needed a new physio, and Red Bull helped me find Matthias Kapl, who is young, talented, motivated, and a genuinely nice person.

I also changed my management, with my brother, Moritz, taking over. He had worked for me for three years already, managing all my business affairs, also being a professional tennis player for 10 years. He has built a fantastic team that allows me to focus solely on tennis. Hence, it was the best solution for me to take him as my manager.

You spoke about losing motivation after winning the US Open. Are you surprised when you see the motivation of athletes such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams who have all won more than 20 Slams each?

Dominic Thiem: As I mentioned earlier, I lost my inner drive after winning the US Open title because that was a goal I had been working towards for so many years. For me, Serena and the Big Three are incredible. Winning the biggest tournaments for so long and so many times that it’s just unbelievable. But we all know that these players are the greatest of all time, perhaps even some of the best athletes of all time.

Tennis Majors: : You spoke about working with a sports psychologist recently. How has that been helping you? Do you feel more young players should be using the help of a psychologist even before they break through to the elite level in the sport?

Dominic Thiem: It really depends on the individual; some players will feel much better if they work on their mental health, while others may not need it as much. I wouldn’t say that there’s a similar way for everyone. You have to find your own way and figure out what works best for you. I also believe that some young players could significantly improve with the support of a psychologist, but again, some players may need it while others may not.

My greatest passion is our planet, our oceans

Dominic Thiem

Tennis Majors: You have been a passionate supporter of environmental causes. What changes would you like the tennis tours to implement in order to make the sport more environment-friendly?

Dominic Thiem: My greatest passion is our planet, our oceans. It’s just amazing how wonderful our planet is. That’s why it’s frustrating for me to see what’s happening every day; we need to improve and change. Also, for our future generations, I want them to have a healthy planet that provides them with the same home that it gives me. Of course, my sport is not very sustainable because I need to fly a lot. But that’s why it’s even more important for me to help our planet.

Our tennis tour is changing for the better right now. Most tournaments no longer allow plastic bottles, but we can do so much more. Even small things like player credentials could be made from sustainable materials; right now, they’re still made of plastic. There are many areas that need improvement, but I see progress, and that makes me happy. Now, we need to continue, and the goal should be to become role models among all sports.

Tennis Majors: You recently launched your own eyewear brand called Thiem View. Can you tell us more about that venture and what was the motivation behind it?

Dominic Thiem: Thiem View is an amazing project. It took us over a year to get everything ready. I’ve always been a big fan of sunglasses and, of course, a huge supporter of the environment, trying to help our planet. I wanted to launch sunglasses that are 100% sustainable, and we did it. Furthermore, 90% of the sunglasses are biodegradable after 180 days, which is fantastic. They are also named after my biggest title, the US Open, with the date (14.09.2020 Austrian Time, when I was 27 years old). The frame of the glasses shows the string pattern of my tennis racquet, with which I won the championship point. I love the look, my designers did a fantastic job, as did the whole team. They are available online, and we ship them worldwide.

Tennis Majors: What's the toughest thing you face as a tennis professional who is on the tour for long stretches of time?

Dominic Thiem: The hardest thing is being away from home and not seeing my family and friends very often, as well as the long hours of travel. I don’t even want to think about the hours I spend sitting on a plane. On the other hand, that’s part of my job, and I love what I do. Being a professional athlete is not just fun or great. There are many difficult and frustrating situations.

Tennis Majors: Last question, what would be on Dominic Thiem's wish list for Santa this coming Christmas?

Dominic Thiem: My wish list would be that my family and friends, including myself, stay healthy. I also wish that our planet becomes healthier again and that people change the way they think, becoming more sustainable and finding ways to live together. And on top of that, it would be great to come back to the top, but I don’t think Santa can help me with that; I’ll need to work for it myself.

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