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Thiem ready to do an Agassi: “I’ll play Challengers to get my level back”

The Austrian says he’ll drop down the Tour levels to get his confidence back

Dominic Thiem, Roland-Garros 2022 Dominic Thiem, Roland-Garros 2022 © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

It’s less than two years since Dominic Thiem won his first Grand Slam title, at the US Open, the culmination of a lifelong dream.

Since then, the Austrian has been beset by problems, first of motivation, then more recently of a wrist injury which has affected his confidence in stark fashion.

Since returning to the Tour in Marbella in March, he has lost all of his seven matches, the latest a straight-sets defeat by the Bolivian Hugo Dellien in the first round at Roland-Garros on Sunday.

A concern with the forehand

Thiem, a two-time runner-up in Paris and a man who previously excelled the clay, has cut a frustrated player in recent times. Off the Tour for the second half of 2021, he was not ready to return until March of this year and his forehand has been of particular concern.

So much so that he is likely now to take a step down the ladder to the Challenger Tour in a bid to regain confidence, just as Andre Agassi did in 1997 when he dropped down the rankings to 141 and decided to play in a Challenger Tour event in Las Vegas.

Back to Challenger level now for maybe one or two tournaments

Dominic Thiem

Agassi finished runner-up in that Challenger Tour event but the process began a renaissance in his career which saw him become world No 1 again and win five of his eight slams. Thiem is ready to make the same commitment.

“Yeah, definitely thinking to go back to Challenger level now for maybe one or two tournaments,” said Thiem, now ranked 194.

“Of course a match win would help a lot, but if I’m honest to myself, I was, in all the matches I played, still pretty far away from a win. So I’m not really thinking about it, I just have to improve and then hopefully it goes from itself and then the first match victory is coming and then things are also working much better match-specific.”

Forehand good in practice, breaks down in matches

Much of the attention has been on the Thiem forehand, which has broken down in matches, despite a series of good practice sessions. Getting that ability back to play at his best under pressure will be key to how long it takes him to return to his best.

“I have zero physical issues,” he said. “I also have no mental problems with the forehand, I’m not scared or anything, but the problem is that in practice was really decent already the forehand but then match situation is something different.

The whole body gets more tight, gets more nervous and right now that’s toxic to my forehand

“In a Grand Slam, especially, I’m obviously a little bit more tight, more nervous and obviously the whole body gets more tight, gets more nervous and right now that’s toxic to my forehand because I’m still missing the fine feeling there, I’m missing it a lot. If that’s the case, many, many mistakes are happening and it was again the same today.”

Thiem said he still needed to pick up his overall level in practice in order to be able to transfer that to the match court.

Dominic Thiem, Roland-Garros 2022
Dominic Thiem, Roland-Garros 2022 © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

“It’s much better in practice but it’s not perfect yet either there and it’s also not the greatest feeling to go in a Grand Slam match or in a match in an ATP tournament knowing in the back of the head that things are not perfect in practice even, because, well, everybody says you’ll always leave 10, 20 percent in the locker room because of nerves and then being tight and everything,” he said.

“And I’m even not playing perfect or the way I want in practice yet, so cannot accept or cannot expect that it happens in the game. I need to work, the first step going to be that it’s working day-to-day perfectly in practice and then try to make the transition into the game.

Thiem: Patience the key to long-term success

One of the most popular players on Tour, Thiem has been encouraged in his return by many of his peers, with Andy Murray among those telling him to stick at it, that it takes time.

“It’s no secret that I started to practice really well and really consistent, I don’t know, six or seven weeks ago and it’s just not enough time, especially for the injury I had.

“The key is just to be patient, continue being patient, work on the stuff which is not working and then it will come back, but it will take time.”

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