No one, not one person, has said it is easy. Everyone from the top down acknowledges it is not ideal, but these are the cards that have been dealt and now it is time to show what one is made of. Trying in earnest to put the frustrations to one side and get on with the job of producing the best that is possible will show who has the mental fortitude.
Some will absolutely handle it better than others and over the last couple of years one who has shown such maturity in tennis is Dominic Thiem. The world No.3 always had a bright future, but he has gone from being a tremendous clay court player to knocking on the door of world No.1.
That is something I believe he will achieve this year barring any unforeseen circumstances. Recently he spoke with Sportschau, an Austrian publication and there is no doubt he knows it is all in the palm of his hands … or more appropriately on the strings of his racquet.
Twelve months ago he was oh so close to winning the Australian Open having beaten Gael Monfils, Rafa Nadal and Alexander Zverev in back-to-back matches leading up to the final. He was then incredible during a five set nail-biting thriller against Novak Djokovic. Barely anything separated them. Nole ended up winning but he really worked hard to hold the Sir Norman Brookes Cup as the fifth seed came at him with all he had.
“I definitely want to win the tournament,” Thiem said. “I start every tournament with the will to win it, with the exception of Wimbledon, maybe. During matches, I’m not more relaxed now because I’ve won a Grand Slam, I show the same amount of nerves as before. That certainly won’t change before the end of my career.
“But I also know that if I play well and am well prepared, my chances of going deep at the Australian Open or other Grand Slams are good. The objective of my preparation is now to get myself there.”
He says over time he has learned to deal with defeats better. No doubt some hurt more than others but that’s the nature of the beast. You learn more from those defeats and they add an extra layer of determination to try and not let it happen again.
Losing 6-4 in the final set last year to Djokovic was one that hurt badly and he “gnawed at it for two, three or four months”. He felt similar after losing the ATP Finals last November to Daniil Medvedev.
That bitterness is obviously more prevalent at the bigger events while a defeat at a lot of other events is treated with a bit more acceptance when he knows he had given it everything. He says he works out the losses with himself but there is a better level of acceptance when he knows he has done all he could, and the opponent just played too well.
“I have to accept it. That’s tennis. All but one player loses in a week,” Thiem said
His win at the US Open last September was a remarkable match – one of the best ever. The final against Zverev could have gone either way as championship points floated across the net before Thiem won the fifth set tiebreak 8-6.
It got the monkey off his back having been in three other finals at the majors. There was a sense of relief. He suggested he had doubts if he’d win one considering he had lost such three finals.
“When you’ve made it as far as me and some other players had, before the US Open, when you have an incredible career and lots of victories, but no Grand Slam title yet, if you never win one in the end, it will always weigh on your stomach in the sporting aspect of your life,” Thiem said. “So, it was a huge relief to make it. That was my very big goal. If I were to never win a match again, I would still look back happily on my career now … which was definitely not the case before.”
The Austrian who will be the third seed at the Australian Open starting 8 February, has to be seen as one of the two main threats, the other favourite has won it eight times … most recently twelve months ago.