Massu On Thiem’s Return To Tennis: ‘He Has Even More Motivation Now’

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Nicolas Massu, former No. 9 in the FedEx ATP Rankings and the current coach of Dominic Thiem, is optimistic that they can pick up where they left off at the start of this season.

The Chilean is credited with helping Thiem achieve his hard-court breakthrough last year. One month after they began working together, Thiem captured his maiden ATP Masters 1000 crown at the BNP Paribas Open (d. Federer) and went on to finish runner-up at the Nitto ATP Finals (l. to Tsitsipas). He opened up this year in equally impressive fashion by reaching his first Australian Open final (l. to Djokovic).

Massu spoke to about Thiem’s training during the suspension of play due to COVID-19 and why he thinks the Austrian is a title contender when action resumes this month at the Western & Southern Open and US Open.

How much did you and Dominic interact during the suspension of play?
During the suspension, I was always in communication with Dominic when we needed to be and his father, Wolfgang, always updated me on how they were working. Dominic was staying with his father and practising, and also working with one of his physical trainers who lives in Austria. I’m really happy that Dominic was able to train well with the part of his team that helps him in Austria.

After four months apart, we started working together again for two weeks before I traveled with him to some exhibitions in July. We took two weeks off after that and I spent some of those days in Greece. We started working together again this week.

Even when I was at home under mandatory quarantine in Chile, I had a chance to watch all of his exhibition matches and it’s great that technology is able to permit you to do that. It was entertainment for me and also helpful to be able to talk with Wolfgang about the matches afterwards.

This is the first time that Dominic has gone five months without playing a tournament since turning pro. How do you think that he’ll bounce back from such a long layoff?
The positive thing is that he was playing a lot of exhibition matches, so it’s not like he’s gone six months without any competition. Dominic played 28 matches in 45 days. I know they’re just exhibitions, but they were serious matches and the level from the players was very high.

Of course, it’s not the same thing as tournaments on the ATP Tour. The reason it’s a Grand Slam or an ATP Masters 1000 is because all the best players will be there. But we tried to make him play many matches during this time so he doesn’t feel the impact as much.

It was a good thing for Dominic because he wanted to play matches and loves the competition. I think that will help him in New York. He’s playing well, looks strong and is really focussed. He has even more motivation now because he’s used to a busy calendar with a lot of tournaments in a normal season.

Dominic is known as one of the hardest workers on Tour. How do you find the balance between building his game and making sure he isn’t too tired when tournaments resume?
We talk a lot with the whole team about the practices and even the holidays. He took two weeks off and we started practising again this week. We need to have good communication and plan a nice calendar if we want Dominic to always be motivated in the training.

We’ve been working a lot on the physical side. Normally the pre-season is just three or four weeks at most, but now we’ve had almost six months to focus on this and the tennis.

It’s also going to be interesting to see how all of the players manage some of the things that will be very different on Tour. You can ask me how Dominic will handle not playing a tournament for almost six months, playing without fans, only being at the hotel and tournament site in New York for one month, but it will be the same thing for everyone.

Dominic has had a couple of heartbreaking losses at the US Open with five-set defeats to Del Potro (in 2017) and Nadal (in 2018). What does he need to do to make the next step in New York and reach his first semi-final or take the title?
He’s recently been able to do a lot of things for the first time. He had never passed the fourth round at the Australian Open and was a set away from winning the title this year. Last year, he went to the Nitto ATP Finals having never passed the round-robin stage, but finished just a couple of points away from winning the tournament. His results weren’t that big in Asia, but then he won Beijing and reached the quarter-finals in Shanghai.

He’s one of the players who always has a chance to win when he plays a tournament. He’s No. 3 [in the FedEx ATP Rankings] and in the Top 10 for the past five seasons because his results are very consistent.

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Looking slightly ahead to the clay-court season, how do you think he’ll handle the quick turnaround from hard courts to clay courts?
We don’t have to think so much about what will happen because this is something new. The most important thing now is to think about the next step, which is the Western & Southern Open and the US Open.

After that, you have to see how you’re feeling physically and what your results are. He signed up for Kitzbühel, but he can’t play if he’s in the quarter-finals of the US Open. If he plays unbelievably well at Roland Garros, what will his next tournament be after that? It’s so difficult to plan an exact calendar because there are no weeks off. Once the US Open finishes, we’ll sit down with the whole team and decide what the best plan is.

Are there any significant changes in his game that we can expect to see in New York?
We’re trying to improve every day. He’s not a teenager where you might have to make big changes, but he’s still a young guy at age 26 and there are still little changes that we can make. He’s a complete player now and showed that he can play on hard courts. We expect that he can have at least the same results as last year.

But it doesn’t matter your age. As an athlete, you have to go to every practice with the mentality that you can improve something. The same thing applies for me as a coach. That’s why this sport gives you life.

It’s why I decided to continue traveling after my playing career. Working with Dominic is a big motivation for me because he’s a great player and an unbelievable person. He’s really educated, he listens and always gives 100 per cent. It’s unbelievable as a coach because you only need to tell him what you see on the court.

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