“My love for tennis has never died” – Thiem on the tiring return from injury

Dominic Thiem is embraced by Rafael Nadal after the 2019 Roland Garros final
Dominic Thiem (left) has reached two Roland Garros finals, losing to Rafael Nadal in both 2018 and 2019

When the tennis world grappled with Rafael Nadal announcing his absence from this year’s French Open, there was some irony surrounding the identity of the man who directly benefited from his retirement.

Next in the standings, moving up into the gap left by the great Spaniard in the men’s singles, was Dominic Thiem.

In 2019, when Thiem lost for the second consecutive year to Nadal in the Roland Garros final, it seemed inevitable that the Austrian would one day get his hands on the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

Four years later, Thiem is still missing the one major trophy many thought he was destined to win.

Winning his first Grand Slam title at the 2020 US Open was the pinnacle of an enviable career that has propelled Thiem to world number three.

Less than a year later, his journey was cut short by a wrist injury that kept him off the ATP Tour for 10 months and resulted in his rankings plummeting outside the top 350 last year.

“It was difficult for me to pull through – and unusual – because it was the first time I’d been injured for a long time,” Thiem, who is back in 91st in the table, told BBC Sport.

“The first 10 weeks I was in a cast so I couldn’t do anything anyway – and then the difficulties started when I started playing again.

“It was so hard because before I was used to snatch the ball, I was used to using my wrist at full power and my whole body at full power, and then it wasn’t possible.

“My mind wanted to play at full power. The body wouldn’t allow it.”

The sentencing style that brought Thiem to success – raw power generated through the wrist on both forehand and one-handed backhand – has had an impact on his body.

So did his desire to play as much as possible. Thiem became known for frantic and heavy coding, now admitting that his previous workload had contributed to his problems.

“I’ve always been very lucky with my body because I was pushing it to the limit almost every day when I was young,” she said.

“Because of all those shots I’ve made in my career up to that point, it was inevitable that something was going to happen at some point.

“Now everything is fine and the body feels great.”

The road to the top of the ATP Tour has been long and arduous.

Not being able to make the aggressive shots he had become feared for left Thiem lacking confidence in his technique.

Upon his return to touring in March 2022, Thiem missed his first seven matches and, following his first-round exit at Roland Garros last year, admitted the nerves were “toxic” to his forehand.

Dominic Thiem hits a shot at an ATP Challenger event in Bordeaux
Thiem damaged the sheath in his right wrist – which protects the tendons that connect the forearm to the hand – but his recovery didn’t require an operation

Thiem subsequently decided to play some events on the ATP Challenger Tour – the second tier of men’s tennis – to rebuild confidence.

He has since won 34 of his 61 matches at all levels, using his injury protected rankings and wildcards to play in the biggest tournaments.

Thiem’s ​​encouraging performance in a 3-6 6-1 7-6 (7-5) loss to Greek world number five Stefanos Tsitsipas at last month’s Madrid Open on clay was especially telling.

“My level is improving a lot because the start of the year hasn’t been good at all,” said Thiem, who plays against Argentine world number 63 Pedro Cachin in the first round of Roland Garros.

“I was playing at a pretty low level, definitely not good enough for touring or the best.

“Then things changed in Indian Wells and Miami. I started playing well and the season on clay was decent.

“The match against Tsitsipas was very close, it gave me the feeling I could play at that level.

“I have worked very well and very hard in the last six weeks. I hope it will pay off at Roland Garros.”

Fast approaching 30, Thiem says he no longer feels young in terms of tennis.

Yet there is no bitterness, or even recognition, for being deprived of what are generally a player’s peak years.

“I have a feeling that all the previous years have been an incredible peak,” said Thiem, who also reached the final of the 2020 Australian Open in a career-best year in which only Novak Djokovic has earned more ranking points.

“I’ve been in the top 10 for five consecutive years, far more than I ever expected or hoped for from my career.

“But I’ve had the feeling that almost no athlete goes through a long career without serious injuries.

“Even when there were some setbacks in the recovery process, I felt like I was handling them pretty well.

“This is one thing I’ve learned all this time: If you’re unable to change something, the best thing is to accept it and let it go. That’s the healthiest way to digest it.”

In the aftermath of his US Open triumph, Thiem decided to take a two-month break from touring to have a “little recovery” due to the physical and emotional impact of finally hitting the prize he’d been fighting for most of his life. his life.

This allowed for more time to pursue interests outside of tennis.

Advocacy for environmental causes, including reducing plastic pollution and protecting bees, is close to his heart.

Long walks with her dog Elon — named after multibillion-dollar entrepreneur Elon Musk — are one of her favorite ways to enjoy nature and unplug from the world, while she’s also launched a line of stylish sunglasses.

But, having started playing tennis at the age of six with his parents who were both coaches, he says his passion for the sport has never faded.

“The love of tennis never died – it was just covered up with thoughts in my mind that weren’t easy,” she said.

“But deep down, the love for tennis has always been there and always will be, I’m 100% sure of that.

“Now I have a pretty clear goal in front of my eyes which is to reach my maximum level of tennis.

“I definitely saw that it was possible. That’s the clear goal I have in the future: to reach another peak.”

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