Massu: ‘Thiem Works, Thinks And Seeks To Be No. 1’
More than 12,000 kilometres (7,456 miles) separate Vina del Mar, Chile, from Wiener Neustadt, Austria, the respective hometowns of Nicolas Massu and Dominic Thiem. By way of fate, they’ve been united as coach and charge by the same common denominator: their winning character.
Geography isn’t the only element that separates former World No. 9 Massu and Thiem: There’s also the nearly 15-year age difference between the 39-year-old Chilean and the 25-year-old Austrian. That difference, however, doesn’t put a wedge in their relationship; if anything, it enhances their bond. The Chilean coach brings a wealth of experience and knowledge into their hours of training on the practice court, which Thiem applies when facing his top adversaries.
After three months working together, Massu discusses with ATPTour.com his pupil’s level so far, their coexistence when training, and Thiem’s chances of lifting the trophy at Roland Garros.
It has been three months since you started working with Thiem and the balance you and Thiem have struck is outstanding (Thiem won at both Indian Wells and Barcelona).
The results have been incredible. This is a long road, though, and you have to know that these results might change down the road. We have to prepare for that, know how to adapt to changes, manage the bumps in the road, and understand that while things are going smoothly now, a career has its ups and downs. When things aren’t going our way, we’ll have to make adjustments.
Many of the players that Thiem has defeated so far at Roland Garros are currently his rivals.
Against Gael Monfils [fourth round] and Pablo Cuevas [third round], yes. Playing them allows me to get a pretty clear picture of what to expect from here. In Rome, he played against [Fernando] Verdasco, whom he’s met several times (Verdasco is 4-0 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series). He also faced [Novak] Djokovic and [Roger] Federer in Madrid. Looking at those results, I see where we stand. It also allows me to pass on the experience of what I experienced as a player in similar circumstances.
Before facing Thiem, Cuevas said it’s unusual these days to see a top player with a game so specialized for a particular surface as Dominic’s is for clay.
Yes, but you can’t pigeonhole him or define him as just being a clay-court player. There are people who say that he’s very good on clay and he’s another player on hard courts, but that’s just not the case.
If you look at his record, he’s solid on fast surfaces as well. Dominic made the quarter-finals at the US Open (2018), the semi-finals at Paris-Bercy (2018), and he won Stuttgart on grass (2016) and at Indian Wells (March).
It’s clear that he has proven to be a very complete player.
He won his first ATP Masters 1000 title on a hard court (Indian Wells)! Obviously, he learned to play the game on clay courts, just as I did. But that does not mean you can’t display your best tennis on other surfaces. Dominic has been proving this for several years. I think he has his unique style of play, but it can be accommodated to fit other surfaces.
But still, you’re still holding tight to the thought that he’s the favourite in Paris...
That Thiem is the favourite?
The favourite is Rafa.
But beyond Nadal, Thiem is probably one of the candidates for the title.
There's Djokovic as well...
But it’s fair to say that they are the three most outstanding candidates to fight for the crown.
On paper it looks that way, but that favouritism ends when any player steps on to the court. One can be No. 1 in the world and play against the 100th-ranked player, but the game must be played. You have to take it round by round. If the favourites always won, the sport wouldn’t exist. That’s why they play the matches.
That means Thiem goes into every match treating it as a final.
Obviously, you have to respect the opponent across the net from you. We take it round by round. The best players on the tour are competing here, in five-set matches. You can’t afford an off day and Dominic is aware of that. But there’s also no problem with Thiem thinking he’s the better player.
His latest results at Roland Garros are two semi-finals (2016, 2017) and one final (2018). The bar is high.
Dominic has to know how to adapt to situations where he’s favoured and where he isn’t. Here, he’s ready to handle that pressure. There is a reason he’s the World No. 4. When you’re that high in the ATP Rankings at 25 years old, it’s natural that people will have high expectations and expect results. Dominic is prepared to deal with that.
Many consider Thiem the natural heir to dominate on clay after the Nadal era.
Maybe that’s because of his young age and impressive results. He has a great grasp of what it takes to be successful on the surface. Still, I can’t stress enough how important it is for Dominic to not get ahead of himself or think he has it won when he still has a semi-final to play, or just going into a tournament. He can be confident, feel he’s the better player; that’s one thing. But to think the match is won before it’s been played is not the appropriate approach. And when he’s not the favourite in people’s eyes, he has to adapt accordingly. But I do see the potential for him to become the World No. 1.
What’s his best virtue?
He’s a hard worker and a good person at heart. He strives to be No. 1. No one knows for sure if he’ll achieve that, but he’s just 25 years old, he’s already No. 4, and because of his accomplishments thus far, the logical next goal is to reach the top of the ATP Rankings. That’s what Dominic is driving toward. He aspires to be the best on tour; he applies himself during training, he fights fiercely on the court and most of all, he’s always giving it his all. Because of his young age, the goal isn’t just reaching the top but staying there. He’s got a long career ahead of him.
Do you see him as Roland Garros champion?
Obviously, if everyone else sees him as eventually winning Roland Garros, I also see it that way. Just looking at his record, it isn’t a matter of if, but when. It might be this year, the next, or the one after. But we’re talking about someone who has the potential to do it. That’s an advantage because it means that he has done things well enough for people to picture it happening.
Finally, what is the best advice you have given him during your time together?
He works to be the best and so do I. I always had a very winning personality, I always gave it 100 per cent. I'm here because I like to compete and I like to win. I was that way as a player and now as a coach. I try to pass on to Dominic all the things that I experienced as a player. For me it is very easy to work with him because he always wants my advice, he’s open-minded and he listens. For a coach, that makes life very easy. He’s a great person. He works, thinks and seeks to be No. 1.