Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Tennis [Print without images]

Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Five questions with Dominic Thiem

By Greg Garber
ESPN.com

Gunter Bresnik is an Austrian tennis coaching legend. One of his students a few decades ago was a kid named Becker.

When Wolfgang Thiem joined the staff of Bresnik's academy in Vienna, it wasn't long before he mentioned that he had a son who enjoyed playing. Dominic Thiem (pronounced TEAM) was 11 years old. After weekly lessons for two years, Bresnik became his full-time mentor.

Thiem swiftly became Austria's top junior. In 2011, he reached the junior finals at Roland Garros and won the Orange Bowl title in December before turning professional.

Three years later, at the age of 20, he'll be the youngest player in the ATP World Tour's top 100 when the rankings come out Monday.

Dominic Thiem
Dominic Thiem opened a lot of eyes with his win against Gilles Simon at Indian Wells.
But though everything had come so easily in juniors, the next level was far more complicated. Thiem, who grew more than six inches in his 17th year, which caused a number of medical issues, lost a lot of his ITF Futures first-round matches. Last year, he played a ton of Futures and Challengers matches.

His two 2013 ATP World Tour events, both in Austria, went exceedingly well. He won two matches in Vienna and Kitzbuhel, reaching the quarterfinals in each tournament. In Kitzbuhel, Thiem beat one of his idols, Jurgen Melzer, who was ranked No. 34 at the time.

"Yes, I like the tournaments at home," Thiem said. "The crowd is always behind you. I did well in that one. To be fair, Jurgen was coming off an injury, but he's one of the best players Austria has ever had."

In time, Thiem may join him.

This year, it's all coming together for the 6-foot-1, 180-pound athlete. He's qualified his way into four main draws already this year -- the most of any ATP player. How's this for hunger: Thiem's won an astonishing 11 of 12 qualifying matches. His ranking should soon give him direct acceptance into a number of draws, including the majors.

He cracked the top 100 briefly in mid-February (No. 99), but his performance at Indian Wells will propel him somewhere into the 80s. Thiem won two qualifying matches, then knocked off fellow qualifier Daniel Kosakowski of America in the first round. In the second, he took out No. 21 seed Gilles Simon.

Tuesday, he ran into France's crafty Julien Benneteau, who at 32 is a dozen years his senior. Thiem actually served for the first set, at 5-4, but his serve -- and his nerve -- let him down. He double-faulted on break point and Benneteau wound up winning 7-6 (4), 6-3.

Still, there's a lot to like about Thiem's game. He has a powerful forehand, a strong serve and nifty hands.

ESPN.com caught up with Thiem on Tuesday evening after his third-round loss to Benneteau. If effort is any indicator, he'll be a significant player. Minutes after his match, he did this interview while walking out to Practice Court No. 7 at Indian Wells, preparing to hit more balls with Bresnik.

ESPN.com: You had a terrific effort at Indian Wells, qualifying and beating Simon in the second round. Are you surprised how far you progressed?

Dominic Thiem: Yes, of course. This is my first Masters tournament, so you don't expect to win four matches. I'm pretty surprised, but I've already played well in the ATP tournaments when I had the chance, so I knew I could do it.

ESPN.com: You're 11-1 in qualifying matches this year. What's the biggest reason for that?

Thiem: Well, I must say I am excited not to be playing in the Futures and Challenger matches. These big tournaments, yeah, they get you going. I like to compete and these are the best players in the game.

ESPN.com: You don't see a lot of one-handed backhands on young players. How did that come about?

Thiem: When I started with Gunter, I had a double-handed backhand. I played too defensive. He changed that. The one-handed backhand helps you to be more aggressive in the points. My junior ranking went down while I got used to it, but it was the right thing to do.

ESPN.com: Was it harder turning professional than you thought?

Thiem: Honestly, yes. In the juniors you are kind of a star, but just because you are a good junior doesn't mean you will be a good pro. I did not play so well in the Futures a few years ago. Everybody wants to beat you out there. It took some time to learn how to play at that level.

ESPN.com: What are some of the things you're working on now with Gunter Bresnik?

Thiem: Well, for sure, the first one is footwork. Movement is one of the most important things. My consistency, everything -- there's a lot to improve. Coaches are never happy. But I'd like to keep improving, go deeper in the tournaments and get as high in the rankings as possible.