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For rejuvenated Dominic Thiem, less is now more

Once the marathon man of the ATP Tour, the US Open champion plans to play fewer tournaments in future to keep his motivation levels high

Dominic Thiem, Madrid, 2021 AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Time was when Dominic Thiem used to love playing week in, week out, racking up the miles – and the air miles – as he turned himself into one of the best athletes on the ATP Tour and, at the US Open last year, into a Grand Slam champion.

But it seems that some time away from the game is working wonders for Thiem, the Austrian reaching the semi-finals of the Mutua Madrid Open on Friday with a hard-fought 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over John Isner, his best performance of the week in his first clay-court tournament of 2021.

“Everyone knows John is one of the best servers in history and the altitude makes it even more difficult to return serve,” Thiem said. “I was a little bit surprised by his return games, he was attacking on both my first and second serves and it took me a while to get used to it.”

Isner charged to a 3-0 lead in the first set and had four break points at 2-2 in the second. But Thiem saved them all, broke the American in the next game and after levelling the match, broke again for 5-4 in the third before serving out to set up a semi-final against Germany’s Alexander Zverev, who stunned five-time champion Rafael Nadal.

“I think the momentum changed when I saved the break points in the second set,” he said. “I had to find a good return position, and then the break in the third came at the right time.”

Thiem: US Open win “took a lot out of my body and my head”

After winning his first Grand Slam title by beating Zverev at the US Open last year, Thiem found it hard to maintain motivation, the effort and achievement in realising one of his lifetime goals knocking his mental equilibrium, leaving him flat, almost burned out.

Instead of trying to fight through it, Thiem wisely took some time off after Dubai, choosing to miss Miami and Monte-Carlo. The time allowed a niggling foot injury to heal but more importantly, it allowed him to rest mentally.

“It had something to do with the US Open title,” Thiem said in a pre-tournament interview on the ATP website. “Chasing a goal for such a long time and then finally achieving it, it took a lot out of my body and my head. With all the euphoria and everything, I was playing well the rest of last year. And then in Australia, it somehow got to me a little bit. I decided to take a little bit of time off to recover and make a small reset.

“I feel recharged. I was away from tennis for a while and away from everything, so I definitely recharged and I’m ready again for everything.”

Dominic Thiem

Thiem: “I plan to play fewer tournaments”

At 27, Thiem is hardly an old-timer but having been on Tour since 2011, he knows he needs to be smart about his schedule as he tries to add to his Grand Slam tally. And that may well mean playing less often.”Yeah, I plan to play less tournaments,” he told a press conference on Friday. “I hope that I still play a lot of matches – if I play less tournaments, but play well there, it still means a lot of matches.

“But I think that I just need little bit time off from time to time to regroup, to re-settle. I think everybody does it. I mean, when I was 21, 22, my first years on Tour, or 23, I also played week after week. You can deal with it, no? Now, with all the years of experience, I think I’m also able to play well after as long a break as I could see here now.

Three good wins against different opponents has put Thiem into the semi-finals in Madrid for the fourth time in a row but it’s also his first semi-final of 2021. Expectations were low when the week began and it seems even the Austrian did not think he would be involved at the business end of the tournament.”I guess that I’m on the right way, definitely,” Thiem said. “But still many things to improve, getting 100 percent back in the match rhythm, anticipation and everything. In general, I feel like I’m back on the right track. That what makes me pleased.

(But) I am surprised to be in the semi-finals. I didn’t expect that. I was just expecting to hopefully play one or two good matches here against top opponents. Now I’m in the semis…that’s amazingly good to get at least four matches on a top level.”

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