Heavy workload Thiem's Halle-mark

Dominic Thiem upset Roger Federer 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 in the semi-finals of the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany, on June 11.
Dominic Thiem upset Roger Federer 3-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4 in the semi-finals of the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany, on June 11.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HALLE (Germany) • As Dominic Thiem has cemented his place this year as a rising star of men's tennis, his quality has been matched with quantity.

The 22-year-old attained his career-high ranking of No. 7 after reaching the French Open semi-finals.

He has scored several notable victories along the way, pulling off the impressive double of beating Rafael Nadal on clay in Buenos Aires in February and Roger Federer on grass last week in Stuttgart.

But, between his flashiest results, the Austrian has laboured through an unrelenting churn of matches at smaller tournaments, far surpassing the workload of any other man in the top 50.

While other top players rest between the biggest events, Thiem has entered and won smaller tournaments, racking up four titles this year across all three surfaces and building up the third-best winning percentage on the tour.

His 3-6, 4-6 loss to Florian Mayer on Saturday at the Halle Open was his 59th singles match this year, 12 more than played by top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who has the second-most matches on the ATP tour.


You've got to grind it out and get used to it. Then everything after that is easy.

ROGER FEDERER, on the challenges that await rising Austrian star Dominic Thiem.

"If you always experience new and better things than before, then you don't get tired at all," said Thiem. "This year, I have the feeling that every week I develop myself, and that's a really happy situation for me."

Federer, who has lost two of his three matches against Thiem this year, praised the young Austrian's durability and consistency.

"I think young guys have to be able to do that," the Swiss said of Thiem's scheduling. "You've got to grind it out and get used to it. Then everything after that is easy."

The grinding work ethic was instilled in Thiem from a young age by his coach Gunter Bresnik, who would go to their training centre near Vienna on Saturdays and Sundays for additional sessions.

That emphasis on constant hard work has stayed with Thiem, even when his superlative ability could allow him to rest on his talent.

"I know that it's necessary, and I don't know (anything) else," he said of the strenuous schedule. "Working hard, it's like normal for me."

Although Bresnik instilled the philosophy, he can no longer keep up with Thiem's travel schedule.

Former player Joakim Nystrom, a Swedish coach who had previously worked with the Austrian tennis federation, now travels with Thiem for about 12 weeks of the year.

"He's playing well, and he wants to play," Nystrom said. "He's very fit. He never complains that he's tired, and I think he likes to play matches. And why not?"

The pressure on Thiem will only mount as he raises his profile in the sport, entering a landscape with few other players his age.

As Djokovic and Andy Murray near 30, a threshold Rafael Nadal and Federer have passed, no younger players have been able to meaningfully join them atop the sport.

Thiem attributed most of the stagnation of the wave of players now in their mid-20s to the steep incline presented by the game's best.

"They were just unlucky that they played most of their careers at the peak of Djokovic, at the peak of Federer, Nadal and Murray," Thiem said. "Those guys are just so good."

He recognises that opportunities will come as the older generation ages, but he wants to be able to improve himself to the point where he can compete with the current leaders while they are still playing their best.

"For sure, Djokovic and Murray, and also the other two, they have a couple more very good years," he said. "The goal for the young players, also me, has to be to compete with them at their peak.

"There's nothing better than that level, so we have to work hard to be able to compete with them. I'm really happy about the situation right now, but the thing is, you can never rest.

"Once you stop working hard, the others will overtake you. I'm very happy how everything is, but at the same moment, I try to make everything better."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Heavy workload Thiem's Halle-mark'. Print Edition | Subscribe