Dominic Thiem and three lessons that can improve you as a tournament player in the long term

Winter 1992.

Somewhere in snowy Germany:

“Dad, why is the dog flying around with children on his back?”.

I was eight years old, it was Christmas Eve and I was sitting cross-legged in front of the tube TV with a pot cut. The eyes followed the story spellbound, which was told in partly bizarre pictures with flying dogs and speaking oracles.

Do you have any idea what the movie was called?

I watched “The Neverending Story”.

It was a cool distraction before the presents could finally be unwrapped under the Christmas tree in the evening. That way I didn’t have to be annoying all the time while the adults were busy organizing the day.

I was just as excited as I was before Santa Claus’ visit almost 22 years later when Dominic Thiem gave me a mini text interview via Facebook. With exactly 0 readers on my blog, I had nothing to lose and he had nothing to gain. Despite this, he immediately said “yes” to the idea and sent me his answers to my questions within 24 hours.

Of course, he wasn’t a top 100 player back then . And it probably wouldn’t be like that today. But I wouldn’t ask the same (sometimes boring) questions anymore. It’s not that important either.

This is much more important:

His character trait in that story was a great lesson to me at the time.

What was this teaching?

If you want to rip something, the things you do when nobody sees you do what counts.
We viewers see the successes of the players in the stream. But we never see the hard work and sacrifice that shapes these successes. We weren’t there when Dominic Thiem (or many other players, of course) was on the Challenger Tour with no guarantee of a successful career. Far from money and fame. Close to paying extra per tournament and trip. We, as outsiders, have no idea how difficult it is to have romantic relationships as a constant traveler.

Having to put off your girlfriend or boyfriend again and again. Putting sport first over and over again. Or build and maintain real, long-term friendships. Being alone in the evening, far away from home and not having the faintest idea whether you are doing the right thing.

In the age of (a)social media, every mentally retarded person can spread their thoughts about the performance of tennis players. Anyone who is disrespectful to the player should rather take their fingers off their smartphone, disinfect them and then immediately grab their nose.

No one who is successful speaks or writes disparagingly or disrespectfully about others. Disrespectful behavior is one’s own dissatisfaction, some of which has been building up for years, which is pulled over someone else’s head like a T-shirt.

So now let’s look at what you can learn from a champion like Dominic to significantly improve your tennis player. Above all in your championship games and tournament matches.

To do this, we will go through a few lessons that you can take with you from Dominic Thiem for your development as a tennis player.

The “balance sheet” doctrine
New York. US Open 2020. Finale.

Empty Arthur Ashe Stadium.

0:2 sets behind. And that in the fourth Grand Slam final. The sober record in these big finals up to this point: 0:3.

The opponent’s serves hit the right and left like a Mike Tyson punch combination. With a consistency that could rob you of courage. Always back to the lines. In almost every service game with an almost satirically high rate.

Dominic Thiem has already played strong Grand Slam Finals against Rafa. Unfortunately, outstanding shots are not enough in these epic games. The forehand hit well , the backhand played with a low error rate.

All of this is not enough to win in a best of five match. In big games, to be a true champion, you need a frustration tolerance as high as Mount Everest. You have to believe in yourself when your team is about to lose that belief in you. You have to be able to unemotionally check off phases in which you don’t play three balls in a row and every shot feels like you have a frying pan in your hand.

And, perhaps the crucial ability of a true champion:

You must be a friend and coach to yourself in this madness of a match.
Something a Nick Kyrgios, fortunately for his competitors, has never been able to do and will never be able to do.

What was Dominic doing in the stillness of the evening?

He stayed cool, tough, positive.

Brandon Nakashima possesses similar “traits” on court.

We can assume he was lying in wait like a fox on the lookout for his chance. At the moment when Sascha played a little weaker and Dominic played a little better. And at that moment he grabbed it.

Yep, Matthias Stach calls the whole thing momentum.

This can be a service game or just a single point. Then a knot bursts for one of the players. And the opponent on the other side ties a knot.

Dominic did an excellent job in the US Open final, which in terms of play – nothing against the two boys – wasn’t the strongest. He was himself, stayed calm and believed even after 0:2 sets that he could still turn the game around.

What can we learn from this match from Domi?

Don’t show your opponent when their strength overwhelms you.
Despite the violent serves and Sascha’s almost flawless tennis in the first two rounds, Dominic stayed cool like Bruce Willis in Die Hard.

The more you tell your opponent about your inner life in a match, the stronger you make your competitor.
Another important lesson learned from this match is the ability to anticipate the future course of the game – and thus make peace. What would have happened if Sascha had served like a bear in the third set and shown flawless tennis? Then Domi would have congratulated his buddy without blaming himself in any way.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. That’s how it is in tennis.

Dominic remained focused despite the 0:3 Grand Slam final balance and the 0:2 set deficit. Probably with the thought in his head that he would get another chance. A great skill that can give you a lot more peace of mind as a club player.

Reading tip for tennis elbow: The Masalo Cuff

The “What You Train Hard For” doctrine
How many times have you stood at the baseline with slumped shoulders and a questioning look and thought to yourself:

“What am I doing this shit$$ for anyway?”.

I can understand you. During my active tournament time I lost a few matches against moon ball players. After those games, I felt like selling my bag on eBay and giving the racquets to a bunch of kids.

But, unfortunately, that’s part of tennis.

In June 2019, on the legendary Philippe Chatrier court, Dominic played against the living ball wall from Serbia – Novak Djokovic. Imagine playing five sets against a guy who doesn’t know what an unforced error is.

And that on a not even fast clay court.

Oh, and he also happens to be number one in the world.

Dominic toiled and toiled on this ball wall for two days – and triumphed. 6:2, 3:6, 7:5, 5:7, 7:5.

Emotions run high just by reading the results.

After that chunk, an even bigger rock awaited: Rafa Nadal. What Dominic said about the Djoker after his triumph is an important lesson for us.

He said:

“… these are exactly the moments that I train so hard for all year round. All the emotions are unforgettable. It was a sensational match with everything that goes with tennis… It was definitely one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve ever had I have had…”.

In my mental coaching sessions, I often notice that a large number of players think extremely result-oriented. If there was no win, then it was a bad match.

The problem with this setting?

Devastating defeats are inevitable in tennis. I lost to a senior in the club championships as a talented youth. You can find this story here .

Tennis is associated with enormous setbacks. If you think you’re a bad player just because you’ve lost your last three matches, you’re creating a false tennis world.

I have a huge problem with thinking result-oriented. Sure, results matter. But what comes before good results? I would suggest hard work and honing your skills. A club player who hits a few balls three times a week, dabs a ball and then drinks three beers won’t bring home any better results in five years’ time.

Fine-tune the little levers in your game to be able to show big tennis in the tournament.

My point is:

Don’t train (only) for good results. Dominic said it very aptly in the quote a few lines above, after an epic triumph over a Novak Djokovic:

“…these are exactly the moments for which I train so hard all year. All the emotions are unforgettable.”.
Train as passionately as you can. But not to see numbers on any game sheet, but to collect unforgettable moments and emotions that you can still tell other people about in years to come.

A victory is forgotten with your next defeat. But an unbelievable match, you will remember that. Some even say that those unforgettable matches can be the ultimate inspiration when you’re in a dark hole.

But that’s just by the way … ;-).

What is the lesson from this story?

Don’t train for victories, train for your development as a player (and tennis character).

Recommended reading: Serve: 18 Timeless Ways to Serve Great (+ 3 Strategies for Better Rates)

The “time travel” doctrine
Do you know that?

Sometimes you think you can’t get anywhere. You feel stagnation. And very briefly, for a few moments, you lose hope.

I remember an ominous YouTube video many, many years ago. It showed an older man playing with his left hand. On the other side of the net was a young talent whizzing around.


The boy had dyed blond hair. Actually, the elderly gentleman should have dyed his hair ;-).

What names were in the title of the video?

Thomas Muster and Dominic Thiem.

Yep, Dominic drew attention to himself with a match in the Wiener Stadthalle against “I want to know again” Thomas Muster.

And now think about how far this boy with the blond hair has come. How many other players have taken such developments?

You can count them on two hands.

What am I getting at?

A great lesson from this example is that you can think of time travel for yourself. How did you open five or ten years ago? How much has your knowledge of tennis increased over the past five years?

What new experiences have you had in the last few years that have helped you somehow finish a match?

It’s not about mutating from a LK 20 player to a LK 1 player. Tennis is a terribly complicated sport. One of the reasons why so few really excel at tennis.

It’s much more about making you really aware of what you’ve already done on the court. How your technique or shot decisions have improved. How to deal with all your emotions in league and tournament games.

If you take a time travel and go back many years, then you only become aware of your development. Then you can travel to the future. Think about how great your game can develop if you consciously hone your individual skills as a tennis player for five years from today.

Without knowing you, but from a few years of tennis experience, I can tell you that there is a lot for you to get. There are still many great matches waiting for you that you want to play.

Okay, some tennis head stuff, right? So I suggest that we briefly list the most important things again:

Match record isn’t as important on the court as being able to focus on the match
Never measure your success by victories, but by your playful, technical and mental development
Never forget how far you have come and how far you can still go
I would like to end this article with a quote:

“You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you” – Ray Bradbury.

Just replace “writing” with “tennis”.

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