Learning lessons, Thiem ready for clay-court run

 - Simon Cambers

Austrian extra-motivated after losing to Rafael Nadal in last year's Roland-Garros final.

Dominic Thiem wawing after his win in Indian Wells 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

For most players, being mauled by Rafael Nadal leaves a nasty taste in their mouth. Stefanos Tsitsipas admitted on Sunday that his loss to the Spaniard in Melbourne in January took a long time to get out of his system.

For Dominic Thiem, his defeat by Nadal in the final at Roland-Garros last June hurt badly. But the Austrian took it in his stride, learned from it and as the clay-court season really takes off this week at the Monte Carlo Masters, he arrives with confidence and belief enhanced.

“I learned a lot from it,” Thiem said, on a rain-interrupted opening day in Monte Carlo. “First I learned it’s a long two weeks when you reach a grand slam final because you are under full tension for two weeks. To face the biggest opponent there was really tough but it was also a great experience and it showed me how nice it is to play a final on the biggest stage and also gave me a lot of motivation to hopefully reach this stage more times.”

Far from a one-trick pony

After a tight first set, Thiem was broken down by the relentlessness of Nadal, who claimed his 11th Roland-Garros title. “Of course, I went away with a lot of frustration because it was a long two weeks,” Thiem said. 

“A loss is still a loss even in a grand slam final but there were many positive things. Also going through my head was I was not the first guy to lose against Rafa in Roland-Garros so it was not that bad a defeat. For two or three days I was devastated but then I was very motivated again and pumped to reach a grand slam final hopefully for another time.”

Thiem performed well on hard courts in 2018 but his victory in Indian Wells, where he beat Roger Federer in the final, showed himself and everyone else that he is far from a one-trick pony, capable of big performances away from clay.

But it is on the red stuff where Thiem excels and having reached the semi-finals in Paris in 2016 and 2017 and the final in 2018, the 25-year-old has to be a live challenger again this time, even if Nadal and world No 1 Djokovic will go in as favourites.

Dominic Thiem smiling during the media day at the 2019 Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters.©Chryslène Caillaud/FFT

Before Paris, though, there are three Masters 1000 titles to play for on clay, including Madrid, where he reached the final last year. First, Thiem will try to improve on a poor record in Monte Carlo, where he has never been past the quarter-finals.

With a bye into round two, Thiem will begin against either Slovakia’s Martin Klizan or a qualifier, with Djokovic a potential opponent in the semi-finals, should he make it that far for the first time.

“Everybody would have to be full power"

Confidence, on the back of his Californian win, is high. “I expect a lot, of course, like in every clay-court season,” said Thiem, who confirmed Sunday that he is now working officially with Chile’s Nicolas Massu, the former Olympic champion, having split from long-time coach Gunter Bresnik.

“It’s amazing. Three Masters 1000 events, one grand slam, one Masters 500 and maybe one 250,” he said, of the clay-court schedule. “Only strong tournaments and I think especially here the draw is a joke – it’s so strong and the level of men’s tennis is pretty high at the moment I would say.

“I think everybody would have to be full power on at the first point of every match and myself as well. That’s what I try and then of course I hope good things are coming in this clay-court season.”