Dominic Thiem looks set to make his long-awaited comeback from injury at the Australian Open in January.
The Austrian has not been seen on the ATP Tour since retiring from his match with Adrian Mannarino at the Mallorca Open back in June with a wrist complaint.
But now in a post on social media, the 28-year-old looked in good shape as he went through a series of strenuous exercises with fitness coach Jez Green – Andy Murray’s former trainer – before embarking on some hitting on the practice court.
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It’s been a disastrous 2021 for Thiem, winning just nine matches as he struggled with not just his body but also his mind, revealing candidly after winning the US Open in 2020 how much he had struggled to find the motivation to play having accomplished a goal he had chased for so long.
"When you fight for a goal, you leave everything for it and you achieve it, everything changes," Thiem said in April.
"However, in tennis everything goes very fast, you don't have time to enjoy the victory, and if you are not 100%, you lose.
“It happened to me this year."
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But now he is lining up a return to tennis in Abu Dhabi at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, before likely travelling to Melbourne for tennis’ first major of 2022.
As well as getting himself injury-free, Thiem has also been busy getting himself protected against COVID-19, declaring openly that he has received the Novavax vaccine.
That hadn’t been the case as recently as October, where he hadn’t been able to attend his home event the Vienna Open due to his unvaccinated status.
As Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley recently announced, being vaccinated is a prerequisite to compete in January's showpiece.
It’s a decision that has sparked debate among many tennis players and pundits, none more so than world number one Novak Djokovic who has yet to declare his status, but who is known to have speculated as to the drawbacks of the vaccination in previous public statements.
With Daniil Medvedev’s status also unclear, that could mean that the game’s top two players by ranking are absent in Melbourne – giving hope to someone like Thiem who has previously performed strongly at the event, reaching the final in 2020 where he lost to Djokovic in four sets.
Also hoping to feature in Australia is Rafael Nadal.
The Spaniard has suffered his own injury issues in the second half of 2021, spending time away from the circuit to cure a long-standing foot issue that caused him so much discomfort against Djokovic in their momentous Roland Garros semi-final in June.
“My idea is to be in Abu Dhabi, and that's still my plan,” Nadal said.
“After that, things will be taken week by week, as always when you make a comeback and want to compete at your best.
“You do not know where you are until you increase the number of matches and test yourself at the highest level.
“At the moment, I have to follow a specific pattern. Things are better than before; otherwise, I would not consider going to Abu Dhabi.
“What will happen from now on? I do not know.
“Abu Dhabi is a test for me, and I'm looking forward to being there.”
There should also be strong British interest at the tournament, with Murray, Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie all likely to be in the men's main draw.
On the women’s side Emma Raducanu is spending the winter in Abu Dhabi in preparation for what will be only her third major tournament, and one in which she will be a huge fan draw after her extraordinary US Open title win last August.
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