As Dominic Thiem continues his comeback from a wrist injury that sidelined him for 10 months, the Austrian is dealing with a wide range of emotions; from feeling frustrated by his current form to being positive about the improvements he is making every day.
One thing Thiem is relying on is his belief that worst part of this whole experience is fully behind him.
“What everybody is telling me, also from my team, is that the toughest period is done. Because the toughest period was definitely the process after I started to play again,” Thiem said in Madrid last week after losing his opener to Andy Murray.
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“It was only setbacks. Go on the court, leaving five minutes after, calling the doctor, calling the wrist specialist, the hand specialist, then start to practice 25 minutes, 30 minutes.
“That was the toughest part. And now, of course, not playing well when I know what I’m capable of or what I was capable of, it’s really tough, but I always need to keep telling myself that the toughest time is behind and now we’re talking about tennis things.
“We don’t ask every five minutes if I have pain, if the wrist is fine. We’re only talking about improving my tennis and that’s very positive and this I have to keep in mind for another while I guess.”
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Since he returned to tennis for his first tournament – a Challenger in Marbella – end of March, Thiem has lost all four matches he has contested.
In Madrid, he lost to Murray in straight sets before shifting his focus to Rome, where he takes on home favourite Fabio Fognini on Monday evening.
“There was improvement but at the same time obviously big frustration as well,” he said of his match against Murray.
“Anyway I have to see the positives, that’s how I also went into that match. I think compared to Estoril, compared to Belgrade, was another step forward today but there’s still a lot of lack of consistency.”
Thiem doesn’t want to dwell too much on the past and is more concerned with the present. He says he will continue to keep his expectations low until the second half of the season begins and is bracing himself for a challenging period on the tennis court.
“Now, another process comes, probably a process where I have to take some more defeats, early defeats probably and some tough weeks are ahead of me,” said the 2020 US Open champion.
“I have to spend a lot of time on court, a lot of time in the gym, just to keep improving every day and try to get back to my 100 percent as fast as possible.”
Nadal: Give Thiem time
Rafael Nadal, who has had his fair share of injury setbacks but has managed to bounce back from each and every one of them in tremendous fashion, has urged everyone not to rush Thiem, and to realise that every case is unique.
“It’ not the moment to put pressure on Dominic, and is not fair to compare about me,” said Nadal.
“It’s true that the way that I was able to come back a lot of times in my tennis career is something special, and is not something usual, because when you are coming back from a long period of time without playing, the normal thing is have a process, and that's what Dominic is going through.
“I don't have any doubt that if he's healthy he will be back this week, next week, in Roland Garros, if not in Wimbledon or after, no? It's a matter of time. If he really has the determination, the passion to keep going, I don't have any doubt that he will recover 100 per cent the level.”
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A mental challenge
Stan Wawrinka, who claimed his first tour-level victory in 15 months on Monday in Rome, had a gruelling battle with injury that kept him out of action for nearly a year and a half (he played just six matches last season).
Wawrinka returned to competition at the same Challenger event where Thiem made his comeback, and a lot of parallels were drawn between them that week.
“I think every injury is completely different. We all have a different mindset to come back. The reality is that it takes time. You need to accept it. You need to do the right work. He is a hard-working player. He will come back for sure. But it takes time,” said the Swiss three-time major champion on Monday.
“It's not only about the fitness side. It's not only about the tennis game. It's also about the mental part. You have to connect everything together to be able to play your best tennis again.”
Massu: We’re ready for everything
Thiem’s coach, Nicolas Massu, has no doubt his charge will recover his form, but explained how there are many details that require time before they come naturally to a player in a match.
Decision-making, timing and re-learning patterns are just some of the things mentioned by Massu, who recalls how just a few months ago, he was in Miami feeding soft balls to Thiem after yet another setback with the wrist.
“It’s a challenge to get back to his former level,” the Chilean coach told Eurosport in an interview.
“He was No.3 (No.5) in the world when he got injured in Mallorca (last June), fighting at the very top of this game. I believe he needs only time but of course we need to accept that at the beginning it’s going to be complicated, not only in the results but to find the whole game.
“But he’s a very smart player, a very explosive player, he works so hard, he listens a lot and I think he’s on the right way.
“We’re ready for everything. If we don’t find the results really fast, it’s going to be the next week or whatever, that’s okay, we accept it, because it’s part of the recovery.
“What you cannot lose now is to believe in all these kind of things and to analyse that for 10 months you didn’t have the chance to stay on the court, to walk on court and to play tournaments and now I think it’s something really positive that he’s playing without pain and now we start to compete.”
The good news for Thiem is that he believes he can play the game the same way he always used to play it. Some injuries force players to alter the way they moved or hit a specific shot in order to adapt to their new physical condition but Thiem assures that is not the case for him.
“I want to play the way I’ve always played and if I’m not able to play that way I think I can retire because there’s no chance to fulfil my goals anymore,” said the 28-year-old Thiem.
“It’s the goal for the second half of the season, to be able to control the game like I did before, to play with this high intensity. I think I’m definitely capable of doing that and also the wrist is fine for that, so I don’t want to change anything.”
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‘We cannot be spectacular before we are regular’
Massu sees a more mature Thiem has emerged out of this long injury lay-off.
In his absence, the tennis world kept on spinning and stars have sprung onto the scene, like the sensational Carlos Alcaraz, and others went through turbulent periods, like Novak Djokovic missing the Australian swing, Indian Wells and Miami due to his vaccination status.
“Today we have to not to think too much about the other players, we need to think a bit more on his game, to feel confident again, to find a way, to play with order, to find again the pattern of game,” said Massu.
“Dominic is a guy, when he’s confident, he can do unbelievable things.
“Now, the most important thing is to try to find the basic things again, where he feels comfortable, to be regular, not to be spectacular in this moment. We cannot be spectacular before that we are regular.”
The team’s goals are very clear, in Massu’s mind.
“If you ask me about our short-term it’s to arrive at the French Open better than we are today,” said Massu.
“Of course the second part of the year we’re going to try to find better results and everything. We need to try to do our best in the second part of the year so we can be in the top again in 2023.”
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