While fans are learning fast about Dominic Thiem’s smooth single-handed backhand and his growing record against the game’s biggest names, there are added dimensions to the young Austrian – here are some fascinating facts that show it.
The son of tennis coaches Wolfgang and Karin, it was natural that Thiem would have a future in the game. Officially listed as starting tennis at age six, the Austrian has related his memories of hitting a soft ball with a mini racquet in the family living room. Dominic is not the only young Thiem who thrives in the sport: brother Moritz, who at age 17 is six years younger, has competed at junior events and occasionally accompanies his older brother on tour.
Born in Wiener Neustadt in lower Austria, Thiem loves to return whenever possible to his parents’ farm in nearby Lichtenworth, where he can reunite with his family and his dog, Hugo. “It can become very lonely the life on tour so I think it’s really important that you have something that you’re looking forward to when you’re coming home,” said the 23-year-old as his breakthrough 2016 season drew to a close.
Thiem grew up idolizing fellow Austrians Stefan Koubek and Jurgen Melzer – but has already eclipsed each player’s results. His eight career titles outclass the three that Koubek claimed and are three more than Melzer amassed. Another long-admired star is Roger Federer, with whom Thiem practiced for a time in Zurich.
Thiem entered the top 10 in October last year and remains entrenched in that elite group – a milestone helped by wins over every top five name: after an early upset of Stan Wawrinka at Madrid in 2014, Thiem went on to claim multiple wins over Federer and Rafael Nadal. He added to the impressive record with an upset of Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals of the French Open, ousting the defending champion in straight sets.
In fact, it didn’t even exist at first. Like most young players, Thiem employed a double-handed backhand as a junior before coach Gunter Bresnik encouraged a switch to the single-handed stroke. “The one-handed backhand helps you to be more aggressive in the points,” Thiem explained to ESPN.com. “My junior ranking went down while I got used to it, but it was the right thing to do.”
Few players have such long-term connections with their coach as Thiem, who first met Bresnik as an eight-year-old. Regular coaching sessions gradually became a permanent arrangement and the pair has now worked exclusively together for several years. The former coach of six-time Grand Slam champion Boris Becker, Bresnik is delighted to have such an enthusiastic charge in Thiem. “He always discusses what he did good, what he did not-so-good and this makes his development so fast,” Bresnik said as Thiem prepared to debut in the prestigious ATP World Tour Finals last year.
Thiem’s reputation as one of the hardest working players in the game is well deserved: the 82 ATP matches he contested in 2016 (incorporating 58 wins and 24 losses) were second only to the 87 matches that world No.1 Andy Murray played. The Austrian is working equally hard in 2017: after the French Open, he’d already contested 47 matches in 14 events, with his 34 match wins second only to Nadal, who had 43.
Regarded as one of the most humble and likeable young players on tour, Thiem has close friendships with several colleagues. Latvia’s Ernests Gulbis – with whom he once shared a coach – was an early mate and now one of his closest friendships is with David Goffin. It showed when Thiem gifted the Belgian a point that was initially called long during their third round match at Australian Open 2016.
A passionate supporter of Chelsea Football Club, Thiem has enjoyed a private behind-the-scenes tour of the club’s Stamford Bridge ground and met his idol, Jose Mourinho during the ATP World Tour finals last year. If not for tennis, football would be his career – but that’s a sport for another time, the Austrian having started and registered his own club at home. “My goal when I’ve finished my career is to play (for) a couple of years,” he told ATPWorldTour.com.
Between November 2014 and April 2015, the then 21-year-old fulfilled his obligation to complete the six months military service that are compulsory in Austria. Impressively, the hard-working Thiem managed that commitment without missing any ATP events and won his first career title, in Nice, the following month.