© Bildagentur Zolles KG/Christian Hofer

Dominic Thiem is the defending champion at the Erste Bank Open in Austria, his home country.

Thiem: 'Defending The Vienna Title Is Not Mission Impossible, But Almost'

Austrian won three deciding sets in Vienna last year

On his day, Dominic Thiem can compete against anyone in the world with his baseline power and all-court game. But the 2019 champion knows that defending his Erste Bank Open title will be a difficult task. Six of the Top 10 players in the FedEx ATP Rankings are competing this week in Austria.

“It’s always special to start as a defending champion at a tournament, but this year is unreal, the whole draw,” Thiem said. “It was strong and then Novak arrived and it got unreal even [more]. [It is] probably the best [ATP] 500 tournament ever. Defending the title is not mission impossible, but almost.”

Thiem will try to use the memories of last year’s emotional triumph to propel him to his best form. Nine years after his qualifying debut at the tournament as a 17-year-old, the home favourite broke through to lift the trophy.

“I would say of course after the US Open that’s still the biggest title of my career,” Thiem said. “[It is] probably one of the most emotional ones as well because I’ve been here since I was a four or five-year-old kid every year as a spectator who didn’t understand tennis, then as a spectator who was super interested in tennis.

"From one year to another all of a sudden [I was] a player qualifying then [in the] main draw with a wild card, main draw directly, first time seeded. Everything that can happen in a tennis career happened here in Vienna for me and then to win the title in 2019, a childhood dream came true.”

In three of Thiem’s five matches at the ATP 500 last year, the Austrian had to rally after losing the opening set 3-6. Then the World No. 5, he was able to battle back on each occasion, defeating good friend Diego Schwartzman in the final.

“I think back almost every day to that because every match was sold out, [it was a] tremendous atmosphere,” Thiem said. “Three of the five matches were three-setters, [it was] really dramatic as well.”

Watch 2019 Vienna Final Highlights:

Thiem feels well ahead of his first tournament since reaching the Roland Garros quarter-finals. He will begin his run against former World No. 4 Kei Nishikori. The Japanese star leads their ATP Head2Head series 3-2.

“I feel pretty good again. It was a pretty short period in between the US Open and French Open, but I handled it well. I gave everything I had. Obviously I was completely done after the French Open, so I took off a week where I did nothing and I also had to still reflect on the US Open title,” Thiem said. “Then [I] set myself new goals, of course looking forward to the tournament in Vienna, which every year [has been] a special highlight since I [was] a young kid, since I played here for the first time.”

Thiem put a lot of pressure on himself to win a Grand Slam title, especially after falling short in a five-setter against Novak Djokovic in the championship match at this year’s Australian Open. He felt that pressure even more once Djokovic was out of the US Open. But now that Thiem is a major champion, he feels freer to soar to even greater heights.

“It’s been a really phenomenal 18 months, but also a tough 18 months for myself because I really put a lot of pressure on myself,” Thiem said. “All of that was not easy and of course I’m super happy that I ended up winning the tournament and my biggest dream, my biggest goal I ever had in my tennis career became a reality. Things are a little bit easier. I’m a little bit more relaxed since that. I’m happy and excited for everything that’s coming up now.”

More stories like this in: