MENTAL OR NOT?

Since I am currently translating fragments of Bresnik’s book for English-speaking readers of my blog and at the same time have been discussing alleged “mental” problems of Dominic for months, I took the opportunity to get a deeper understanding of the book from this point of view and to confront the fan discussion as well as my own observations from the matches.

I’m just translating fragments about Dominic’s personality. And there I find what I just needed under the title “Sixth milestone AGGRESSION”.

If you have the book, you can read and reconsider it yourself and if you know English, you can read these parts of my translation in English.

What is it about?

The point is that Dominic was born and raised in such a way that there is no aggression in him. Also in the game.

What we observe is his enormous mental and physical effort, actually with every stroke and every movement. May look like aggression.

But – this “aggression” is directed against the court and the ball, not against that one over there. This is a problem and Bresnik saw it as a problem and tried to change it.

Why is that a problem? Because tennis is a direct fight of two (but “no contact” i terms of MMA). No team sport, so you are alone on the court. But also not hammer throwing, long jump or archery, where you don’t have a direct opponent – only the distance, height or the central point on the target. Tennis is like boxing. You can’t hit the air. You have to hurt the other one. Sometimes literally, because sometimes you have to play on your opponent’s body to safely win the point.
Can Dominic do that?

He can’t do that for all I care. Can he learn that? This are partly gestures showing the other player that he is inferior, such as fist pumping, looking into the eyes with thrust etc. Dominic does that sometimes too, but you can see that he has learned it and is not convinced that it is not ridiculous or perhaps unfair?

A perfect example – the Delpo match. Dominic felt sorry for Delpo (whether he was really sick or only partly played like that, you never know). Every minute of the match. more. He expected Delpo to give up (he was also close to doing what he said after the match) and not play the role of a killer who shoots a defenseless man. That got him out of the rhythm and when Delpo recovered and got a lot of adrenaline thanks to his fans, Dominic was already in the head on the bench, where he would certainly not celebrate loudly.

Dominic’s real personality was there, he played very well and as long as it went against the ball and court, it worked very well. But then this compassion for the sick colleague (actually not the opponent) and he lost against himself. The fight was not between him and Delpo, but between Dominic’s real and learned personality.

Should we be unhappy? We are because he lost such an important (and then many more) match. How stupid. But that was him and in his soul he was the victor.

Dominic plays against the ball and the court. Not against the other player.

Does this have anything to do with a mental coach or a change of trainer? Definitely not. Will he find a balance between his genuine friendly personality and the learned personality?

He tries, so my observations of his games to stay with the real one and find another way to win. Why does he always play best against the best? Because he doesn’t feel sorry for them, because in these matches he is not a favorite. If he does defeat them (like Federer in 2016 in Rome and Stuttgart, like Rafa in 2017 in Rome), you can see that he somehow apologizes. He was lucky because able to play so well that the best players couldn’t defend themselves.

That seems to be his right path. To do this, he needs to learn a lot, serve better, return better, play better at the net, etc. To the point where he simply wins by being better than his opponent in every aspect of the game. Then he doesn’t have to feel bad if he wins.

And this is his own private fight with himself. Perhaps Bresnik as the most important trust person and master can help. But to change Dominic’s personality? Nobody can do it. No mental coach. No Carlos Moya or Boris Becker, whoever. And is that even a target?

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10 Replies to “MENTAL OR NOT?”

  1. Thankyou for the English translations of this post and also the Method. Very interesting as always & greatly appreciated. There is something that continues to puzzle me in regard to the English language interviews with Dominic prior to the start or during certain tournaments. Here in the UK most of the interviews we have access to are with the ATP or with the tournament directly in the case of the GS. I would imagine that in Germany & Austria there is a much greater variety available.
    However, since RG Thiem has stated in every interview that he has concerns about the court surface not being suited to his game. Surely he is giving his opponents the upper hand before he’s even stepped on the court? Their confidence levels will already be rising just knowing that Dominic’s is not. I can’t understand why he does this. Any ideas?

  2. I think, this is rather simple. He is honest. It does not bring much if he tells opponents, he has now the big hard court game. They would test him very early. In fact hard courts does not suit his game, he is just on the way to find his hard-court game. It’s still not done. But many elements were introducen in 2017 and I’m quite sure, after some grinding in the off-season, it will be good enough to have a lot better hard-court season 2018. Still his focus is on clay. He has lots to defend there and the best chance to finally win big titles – Masters or maybe even Roland Garros.
    It’s like Wawrinka. His best chances were always on clay, but at some point he started to be able to win on hard too. The same Rafa. And Dominic is a lot younger. His chances on clay are now bigger and it would not be wise to sacrifice these best chances only to make his game’s level similarly good on every surface. There are players (but not Top10); who can have similar achievements on every surface. On the very top it is no more possible. Not for Federer. Not for Djokovic. Not for Rafa or Andy. I think, Dominic has better chances to be some time a big-titles-winning all-courter, because he is more able and eager to learn and IMO he will stay like this all over his career. They say the same about Federer. But Federer says himself, there are only 2 men working that hard he would not be able to and not like to: Rafa and Dominic.
    And no, there are only few interviews with Dominic in Austrian media. If I find something interesting, I will place a link on the blog and translate into English, if possible.
    So far I think, the Bresnik’s book is the most valuable source of knowledge allowing understand Dominic 🙂 So this is my highest priority and I still have a lot to do 🙂

  3. Dominic, by nature, seems very easy going, kind, and down to earth, which are wonderful traits to have. He seems to be the kind of person who will avoid conflict at all costs. But, yes, on the tennis court, one has to be ruthless and cannot feel sorry for beating an opponent, injured, sick, or not. I hope he can take away some lessons learned from this year’s USO 4R loss to Del Potro and use it to further develop that “take no prisoner” mentality. That loss had nothing to do with his supposedly weak hard-court game, it had to do with how he responded to the circumstances that were completely out of his control (the loud crowd “against” him, sick opponent, and shift in momentum). Bresnik can continue to work on his technique and style, but it is up to Dominic to execute his game under any situation. Dominic seems to be a late bloomer, so I don’t expect him to fully develop his learned personality and be able to turn it on and off perfectly tomorrow, but I am confident he will be able to do so in a not so distant future. Also, this is only Dominic’s second season in the Top 10, so he is maybe still getting used to being the hunted, not hunter. One thing that concerns me lately is his negative body language on the court especially during the second half of 2017. He never used to show this much negativity. Now it is like we can tell exactly what he is feeling at the moment. I don’t think it is very wise to show your opponent your true mental state. Serena Williams never sulks on the court, even when she is struggling to win points and is match point down and I believe it is in addition to her tennis skills, her never say die attitude has allow her to win and dominate for so long. Again thank you for your translations! Look forward to reading more!

  4. It’s more to come from the book, but I can quote here Bresnik’s final conclusion.
    “Dominic has just found his own kind of aggression. joy of playing out his capabilities. The toughest the opponent, the bigger the arena, the higher expectations, all the better.He prevails, because he can play better than the opponent. And when he cannot do it better, he will practice so long until he can.

    Dominic is so aggressive as the player I have in my mind. But at the same time: more sympathetic, warm and emphatic.

    This is the first point, in which Dominic did surpass the initial goal.”

    This makes me think, Bresnik knows a lot about Dominic’s limits, which at his current age must be not only the inborn character but also own adult decisions, where his red line is. Maybe never a slam but still his genuine personality. Bresniks thinks, Dominic’s skills are high enough to beat anyone on any surface. Assumed, he would change his mindset just as you wrote. If he would turn to be a”no-prisoners”- personality on court, it could change him in his off-court life too and this is maybe hard to accept for him. So maybe his way is just the one from Bresnik’s conclusion. Maybe he will never be aggressive against the opponent. To be that aggressive you must kind of hate the opponent for the time of the match. This can be learned, but if you don’t like or acceü
    pt such mindset, you will not even try. This may be Dominic’s case. But Dominic (acc. to Bresnik) loves to play and loves to learn (seldom, because so many try to avoid hard work, relying on their talents). Acc. to Bresnik talent is 1% of the success, the rest is work. If he’s right, Dominic will improve a lot each year, while others maybe only their “killing abilities”. This would be the most wonderful way to big wins and titles. Can you imagine Dominic after being crowned in a slam to hold a Federer-like speech? They say, Federer is humble (given his skills, records and position on and off court) , but he loves hype and he takes energy from it. I believe, Dominic will never be like this. Now a question for us fans – would we prefer to see “another” Dominic winning everything or better the current Dominic winning less or late?

  5. One thing more. It’s about how Dominic understands FAIR PLAY. BTW – like every year Federer gets this award, but OK, he is a fair player but didn’t do anything special, like Dominic did (giving important points away to lose to Anderson in Washington).
    But what most expect from him (Bresnik too) just to be a ruthless killer, win a set to love and celebrate a.s.o. We cannot expect him to change these principles, because they are GOOD and RARE.

    1. Thanks for your comments. Fascinating! Yes, there is a possibility that if Dominic develops an aggressive on-court personality that he might struggle to turn it off when he is not playing. I think Dominic is very comfortable and happy with who he is and focuses on battling against the ball, and not his opponent. Would a lack of killer instinct prevent him from winning a GS or becoming #1? Don’t know. But many great champions have that –
      Nadal, Federer, Serena Williams, Sharapova to name a few. Dominic almost has all the skills, physical capabilities necessary to achieve these things. Dominic can improve his focus and not let mistakes and UEs distract him from playing his game. The last half of 2017, he sometimes got too frustrated and became distracted on the court. With that being said, Dominic’s character is the number one reason I became his fan. Such a genuinely nice, kind, and classy person both on and off the court. I really want nice guys to finish first.

      Totally agree with you on Dominic’s fair play. It was unfair (sorry for the pun.) he wasn’t nominated for the Edberg Sportsmanship award this year. He deserves to win this award every year until he retires. But I am pretty sure Dominic does not care about these frivolities because he cares more about playing tennis and improving his game than anything and awards are a gimmick anyways. I’ve also noticed at the end of the match, even after suffering a terrible defeat, he engages his opponent appropriately and with class. He looks at his opponent in the eye and makes sure to acknowledge them with a proper and firm handshake at the net, something a lot of his peers like his good friend and rival A. Zverev and so many players on the WTA side fail to do so regularly. He also consistently treats umpires, ballkids with respect. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him argue with the umpire or yell at the ballkids. Some viewers pointed out that he thanked the ballkids in french(!) every time they gave him a towel in this year’s FO QF match: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ot9QYwThzsc. Kudos to Dominic’s parents, Bresnik, and all those who raised, nurtured, and shaped him. Dominic is a very special person and tennis player!

  6. Totally agree 🙂 Dominic is not “made for hype” like many are. His “hype” is the game itself, so he is sometimes sad, it’s over because of an unexpected loss. But yes, he is always honest and genuine with his handshake and his one means more than pseudo-cordial gestures of Djokovic or Delpo and many others.
    Dominic told once, the handshake after the match means much for him and he is showing this after any match. And his match (won) against Steve Johnson after his father’s death – Dominic had some warm words for him at the net, while others thought, he is hysteric or something.
    Yes, I have never seen him discussing with the umpire and I frequently see umpires appreciating his behavior. They never have any problem with him. He gives points ways and does not make big thing from this. If he asks for challenge, he is always smiling waiting for the verdict.
    There are many good players on the tour, but Dominic is only one. And yes – he will get more fans after he wins slams, but his most important fans are those, who like him “as is”, if he wins and progresses in the ranking or not.
    But I believe, his genuine attitude will not be an obstacle to come to big wins and still be well grounded, sincerely humble and friendly, not holding speeches for the media and sponsors, but for the opponent, for fans (also those supporting his opponent) umpires, ballkids, for his family and friends.
    Bresnik has explained in his book with big respect how Dominic was raised by his parent, then tried to let him change the body language at least a bit to make his life on court easier. But ended respecting Dominic’s fine character and concluding, his kind of agression ist and will be different. Still improving his game is both his and Bresniks work and impossible this does not bring effects every year 🙂

  7. Hi Wladyslaw & Marjorie, I totally agree with all you’ve said about Dominic’s personality & his remarkable behaviour both on & off the court. And as his true fans we would never want him to change his character in order to win more matches & bigger tournaments. I don’t think this would be at all possible now at this stage of his life. Whether he can develop a way to be more ruthless on court and exude confidence even if he doesn’t feel it will remain to be seen. One interesting point in regard to Dominic’s honesty. In his post match interview after his defeat by Delpo at the USO he was asked if either the reactions of the crowd or Delpo’s ‘sickness’ contributed to this defeat. He was adamant that this was not the case. Was he being honest or displaying his genuine sportsmanship by not using these reasons to validate Delpo’s success?
    Wladyslaw, I must thank you for posting & translating the press articles re Dominic’s off season preparations in Tenerife. I really enjoyed reading them. And also your comments re Fed’s training offer. It’s good to know he’s not offended.

  8. About Dominic’s comment after Delpo disaster. I’m sure this was not fair play for show. One of his positive and lovely “simplicities” is to never think about how his word will be interpreted. Simply telling what’s in his mind. And he was right to not look for excuses, because he knew, this was his weakness (but the one he accepts and it belongs to his personality), so yes, he might have really enjoyed to play a match in such unusual conditions. He never expects crowds to support him. Crowd’s support may be nice but it’s capricious. Not for Fed, not for Rafa. But all others must take it “as is”. So yes, Dominic was really honest.
    I think, he is still developing how to be “ruthless” on court, simply by playing his best. He does not need anything more. Like fist pumping, distracting opponents, play he did not see the opponent’s ball was good a.s.o. SUCH IS OUR DOMINIC. and may he stay like this. One slam less or more does not mean so much for a normal guy as he sees himself. Still I think, he will have the biggest wins, maybe not yet. I would be happy Dominic to play final in Roland Garros 2018 and if not win so lose after an “epic” match. Against Rafa – who else could beat him on clay?
    And this is my favorite video showing Dominic just like he is and like we want him to be 🙂 Simple thing can bring lot of happiness too 🙂
    https://www.facebook.com/1.Dominic.Thiem/videos/1902608863087442/

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