Massu On Thiem: "Ask Dom To Do Something And He'll Do It – Just Better"
Former World No. 9 discusses his short, but already productive time with the BNP Paribas Open champion
In the past 40 days, only wonderful things have happened for me. As captain of the Chilean Davis Cup team, I helped my country reach the World Group stage for the first time since 2011. Soon after that, I began working with Dominic Thiem at the Argentina Open in Buenos Aires. I accompanied him to Rio de Janeiro (for the Rio Open presented by Claro) a week later and now we're here in the United States. The most incredible thing is that in just our third tournament together, at a time when we're still getting to know each other, Dominic has won his first ATP Masters 1000 title, and he did it on a hard court at the BNP Paribas Open [d. Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5]. One of the reasons why he asked me to join his team in the first place; was because he felt that I could help bring his hard-court game up to speed with his very accomplished clay-court game.
What's most impressive is that Dominic is producing the intended results so quickly. It even surprised me because it's the first time I've been in this situation and under these circumstances as a coach, where I've been brought in for a very specific role.
Besides being Davis Cup captain, I have a tennis academy in Chile and I manage players’, but I don't travel with them. So, it's amazing that after a few weeks of accompanying Dom, we won in Indian Wells. I cannot be any happier; it feels great to help him achieve his goals.
And to think, all of this came together just recently. Thiem didn't compete for Austria in the Davis Cup tie against Chile, but his coach, Gunter Bresnik, reached out to me at one point. I joined Dominic's team during the Argentina Open soon after. Even though we never actually met prior to working together, I had been following Dominic’s career for a long time and admired his game. I considered him championship material. What I liked most was the sense of family among Team Thiem. Having worked with other teams before, I was delighted by how Dominic's group had a sense of unity. They opened all doors to me and accommodated me in every way possible, to ensure that I had the tools to get the job done.
The first thing I noticed about Dom as a player was that he needed some time to heal. His body was a little worn by the end of last season and it became more noticeable at the start of this year. By the time we got to Buenos Aires, Dom was just getting out of recovery mode and needed to build his strength, both physically and mentally. His loss earlier on in Rio (l. to Laslo Dere 6-3, 6-3) was a good thing, as it gave us time to get to Indian Wells early and continue the rebuilding process.
It was then that I recommended fitness therapy coach Duglas Cordero to work with our team. Duglas is an experienced physical trainer; he's worked with Fabio Fognini and I spent time with him during my professional career. This allowed Dom’s physiotherapist, Alex Stober, to handle one set of roles and for Duglas to take on another and guarantee we got our player as fit as possible. I continued my part in developing his game for the hard courts. I feel that between the three of us, we made an immediate impact. As Thiem put it, he started looking at his game in a different way and because of very precise planning, an intense drive and strong work ethic — all at a very high level — the results showed quickly. Add to that the passion and positive energy we bring, and you can see why his game has grown in such a short amount of time.
The BNP Paribas Open was the perfect place for Thiem to demonstrate how far he had come in such a short space of time. Throughout the tournament, I contributed by instructing him to make small adjustments, minor tweaks that would make a lot of difference on Indian Wells' hard courts. I was surprised by how quickly he picked up on things; he has an incredible ability to learn something and immediately apply it during a match. He's an amazing talent and extremely disciplined. Ask Dom to do something and he'll do it — just better. It's a privilege as a coach to work with a player of that calibre.
We discussed a lot of things as he progressed through the tournament. We approached each match with its own game plan. I explained to him that in addition to improving his overall game, he needed to work on his return of serve. I felt he needed to step closer to the baseline, even inside of it, more often. If you look back at replays of his matches, you'll notice as the deeper he got into the tournament, the closer he got to the baseline while returning serves.
In addition to his return game, Dom and I spent a lot of time talking about what types of shots to use and when to execute them. When to hit high, looping balls; when to go with the slice; when to use topspin or to surprise with a drop shot. We took a close look at all his weapons and broke down when they would be most effective. If you look back at the most critical points throughout the tournament, you'll notice those are when Dom played at his best. It goes to show he's got a champion's mentality. It's those little alterations that make a huge difference to a player like Dom. Even so, I'm still surprised at what a spectacular talent he is. Dom's back to a career-high No. 4 (which he first attained on 13 November 2017) and feeling at an all-time high. That makes my life much easier as a coach.
I feel a close connection with Dominic's game and I'm able to identify key areas of it every day. I see a lot in his game that resembles my own game and the way I played when I was on tour. He's got fluid footwork; he's always moving into position and maneuvering the ball around the court to line up his best shots. We've got different personalities, of course. After all, he's Austrian and I'm Chilean. But maybe that's why we complement each other. It's still hard to believe that a little over a month ago, we didn't even know one another personally. Since then, we've bonded as a team. I don't change my ways for anyone and in this case, that isn't even an afterthought. I'm working with an incredible talent.