Dominic Thiem has been the strong man of tennis for some time now but as he booked his place in the second round of the Australian Open on Tuesday, it was the presence of another man in his box that had everybody talking at Melbourne Park.
Thiem hoping Muster effect pays off
Former Roland Garros champion could prove to be the final piece in the jigsaw.
Already in good form
Thomas Muster, the Austrian who won Roland Garros in 1995 and who reached world No 1 the following year, began working with Thiem earlier this month, his first venture into coaching and, he said, the only man he wanted to help.
Muster, of course, was the ironman of his generation, his incredible work ethic and training regime helping him to become one of the best athletes on the Tour and dominate the clay-court season in a way only 12-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal has done since.
Thiem looked in good form on Tuesday as he took care of the Frenchman, Adrian Mannarino, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2, his trademark one-handed backhand working smoothly as he powered his way into round two.
Muster has been working alongside Thiem’s coach, Nicolas Massu, and he will surely have been impressed with the 26-year-old’s performance, even if he may not have had enough time, yet, to stamp his influence on his countryman’s game.
"He's an absolute legend in sport"
Nevertheless, Thiem is confident that Muster can be the man to make the difference as he tries to win his first grand slam title, having reached the final at Roland Garros in each of the past two years.
“We just started, it’s only our third week together,” Thiem said. “But he’s an amazing addition to our team. He’s the greatest tennis player of our country we ever had by far, he’s an absolute legend in sport, he has so much knowledge and experience, he can help me a lot. I hope of course that it pays off very soon already.”
Thiem has now won all eight of his battles with Mannarino and after going the distance in the first two meetings, he has now won the past six without dropping a set.
Only Nadal has prevented Thiem from winning a grand slam title and though clay is the Austrian’s best surface, as it was for Muster, he is becoming a real force on hard courts, winning the Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells last year.
A lot of confidence
He also beat both Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer on hard courts at the end of last year, wins that give him confidence coming to Australia, even if he has never been past the last 16 in six previous visits.
“They (the wins) gave me a lot of confidence, especially back then,” Thiem said. “But they are also a while ago. I mean, almost two months now. So I have the feeling that almost everybody starts from zero again," especially here in Australia as it's the first slam.
“But of course I have still some nice thoughts, some nice thoughts about how well I was playing on a quick hard court back then. It helps me to come into the tournament with more confidence.”
Considering that Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have won 55 of the past 66 grand slams, and each of the past 12, between them, breaking through to win one of the big four events remains an incredibly difficult thing to do.
But Muster believes Thiem has what it takes to do it.
“He has the chances to win grand slams, we know that,” Muster told the ATP Tour earlier this year. “He has the ability to do that, and I wouldn't have done that for anybody else. But when this came up, when we started talking about this opportunity, I really had to pinch myself and go, ‘Well, do I want to do this?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I want to.’ I want to commit myself to this guy, and I want to make him better than I ever was.”
If that happens, then Thiem will be a champion sooner rather than later.