Dominic Thiem: 'I Expect A Lot'
The World No. 5, who reached his maiden Grand Slam final at Roland Garros last year (l. to Nadal), has lifted eight of his 12 ATP Tour titles on clay and looks set for another successful campaign on the surface this year. But the Austrian is well aware that despite his high standards, it will require his best level to succeed in a packed draw at the first Masters 1000 event of the European clay swing.
"I expect a lot, of course, like in every clay-court season... [There are] only strong tournaments and, especially here, the draw is a joke. It is so strong," said Thiem, who will open his tournament against Slovak Martin Klizan or Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis. "In general, the level of men's tennis is pretty high at the moment. I think everybody has to be 'full power on' from the first point of every match, myself as well. That is what I will try [to do] and I hope good things are coming in this clay-court season."
Last year, Thiem advanced to his first quarter-final at the Monte-Carlo Country Club. The Austrian star defeated current World No. 1 Novak Djokovic in three sets to reach the last eight before falling to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. One year on, Thiem shared his belief that while Nadal remains the man to beat on clay, he should also expect to face greater challenges on the surface.
"I think that as long as Rafa is playing, he will always be the top favourite for any clay-court title, but I think there are more serious challenges to him than the in past years," Thiem said. "Sascha [Zverev is] always [a threat] and Novak is back on the top of his game and, I hope, me. There are the really young guys like Felix, I think he likes clay a lot. He played amazing in Miami and [there are] also other very young guys like Stefanos and Shapovalov. There are many challenges for Rafa."
After strong starts to the 2019 ATP Tour season, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov occupy the top three positions in the ATP Race To Milan. When Thiem was asked to compare his abilities to theirs at a similar age, the 25-year-old heaped praise on the trio of #NextGenATP stars for their quick rise up the ATP Rankings.
"Compared to [Auger-Aliassime, Tsitsipas and Shapovalov], I was really bad at 18," said Thiem. "They are so good already. They are already [around] the Top 20, Top 30. When I was 18, I was ranked No. 700 or something. I think time changed again. When I broke into the Top 100, I was the [second] youngest guy there."
Following success at Indian Wells in the early stages of their partnership, Thiem is confident that the addition of former World No. 9 Nicolas Massu to his coaching team will take his game to the next level on clay. The Chilean lifted five of his six tour-level titles on the red dirt.
"I started a relationship with Nico [Massu] in Rio and Buenos Aires and then, of course, I did great practice with him before Indian Wells where I achieved this title," said Thiem. "I was thinking it was a great relationship with him and he can add many good things to my game. He grew up on clay, it was his favourite surface. So I expect good things to happen in this relationship, on this surface and in this period of the year."