When Dominic Thiem retired from his third-round match at Indian Wells with an ankle injury, all questions of his health pointed at the coming clay-court season.
Would he recover in time to play on his favourite surface? Would he be able to defend his exceptional 2017 results? Would he be able to make a run for his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title – or even Roland Garros?
As the Austrian returns to the ATP World Tour this week at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, he intends to answer those questions.
“I always feel good coming to clay,” said Thiem. “I had some issues with my ankle from Indian Wells, but I think the problems are gone. I had a good preparation first at home and some good practice with amazing players here. So I would say I’m at 98 per cent.”
Last season, Thiem was one of the best players on clay, winning 22 matches. The only competitor who won more was none other than Rafael Nadal (24). In Europe, the only tournament where they didn’t play each other was in Monte-Carlo; Nadal was able to best the 24-year-old in three of their four FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings on clay. But in Rome, Thiem handed the Spaniard his only loss on the surface last year.
Once again, Thiem knows that Nadal will likely be an obstacle he will have to overcome if he’s to claim the top prizes over the next two months.
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“We had a good rivalry during the period of clay [last season]. Four matches in six weeks, always deep in the tournament. It was amazing,” said the Austrian. “For me, he’s doing [well] for 10 or 11 years and for me it would be great to repeat a good run like last year.”
Thiem’s game has always clicked best on the picturesque clay. The surface affords him time to wind up his massive groundstrokes and build points with his exceptional athleticism. Clay allows the one-hander to combine power with creativity – and he’ll need plenty of it when he kicks off his campaign in Monte-Carlo against either Andrey Rublev or Robin Haase.
“For me it’s a very important part of the season, obviously, and I have a lot of pressure, a lot of points to defend,” assessed Thiem. “If I don’t do it I’m going to drop in the [ATP] Rankings, so big times are coming up for me, but I’m pretty relaxed. This tournament here is to fight again, to hopefully get some matches under my belt and then hopefully I can [be in] my best shape during the clay-court season.”