THE DOMINIC THIEM METHOD part 2

And Dominic was winning, winning, winning.

But he was winning with mean tools.

Dominic was a moonball king.

 

The forehand was better. The forehand was a shot. Not faster than the backhand, but with pace, the forehand had a potential. With that one it was possible to make something. To make his backhand from those times a weapon would mean to change all principles of the physics.

The second problem was his playing attitude. Dominic was winning, winning, winning. But using mean tools. Dominic was a moonball king.

The tennis player Dominic Thiem had a natural expiry date. The construction of his game would collapse after he meets opponents, which would not defeat themselves; he would remain on the top, also on the international level, until the age of 14, 15, 16.

But then his opponents would be bodily strong and technically skilled enough to play his slow balls back as winners beyond his reach, just like you wipe away breadcrumbs from the table. Dominic would end his career in despair being 17 or 18 years old.

The third problem: Dominic’s personality. Dominic was raised in high-grade conditions. When coming into some room, he was greeting people. He was saying: please and thank you and he looked into eyes of another person, when giving him/her his hand. Remarkably sympathetic, nice, friendly.

But too kind and polite for a performance athlete. Too much of a future son-in-low, not enough Skoff or Koubek.

Dominic was exceptionally good in avoiding losses. He was not a type of a winner, he was a kind of no-loser. He was avoiding confrontations. When his colleagues were scuffling, he did hide away. His readiness for aggression was perfectly expressed in the trajectory of his backhand: max. 30 kmh at least 3 meters over the net.

When he apologized for a net roller, it was not courtesy but because he was really sorry for the opponent.

These were the three problems to solve.

To let it as is would mean to let Dominic win him deeper and deeper into cul-de sac.

The third milestone

Tools

The first main focus was working on shots. Serve, forehand and backhand are for a tennis player just like a hammer, nail and saw for a carpenter.

Dominic was my hobby. An energizer. After a training unit with him I was leaving the court fresh and loaded with energy. Was for me a new experience. So far it was me who had to invest energy on the court. Training units were often – with Skoff, Boris, Leconte or Koubek – power acts, a whirl of persuasion, overcoming of the open and hidden resistance of the player.

Nothing of this with Dominic. No resistance. Pure joy. Commitment. Passion. Listening. Concentration. Attention. Desire to learn. He was done so he was no more able to hold the racket upright. But he was still smiling.

From the passion of the boy energy was emerging, allowing the hardest work on the court.

And my task was all but complex. So far I was only interested in getting Dominic hitting the forehand fast.

On the other side of the net Dominic’s father delivered balls from the basket and I stand near Dominic and yelled at him:

“Hit ít! Hit it!” Hit it!”

He poked the ball and groaned from effort.

“Full ahead!”

The same each day at noon, 2 hours long.

Because of his earlier wins Dominic has grown a kind of a lock in his head, preventing full speed hitting. The only goal of this lock was to avoid errors. We needed to dismantle this lock. We were doing this by letting Dominic do only one thing – to hit the ball with the highest strength he was able to. And to follow-through so, his elbow was sliding at his nose.

For some time, I have even forbidden him to hit the ball into the court. I have asked him to hit the ball so wide out, it lands not on the court, but on the fence.

I have forced him to make errors. Always out, never in the net. This would be completely false for the development of his skills.

“Full ahead!”

Karin and Wolfgang (Dominic’s parents – PRF) were not yet 30 years old as they took a big decision. If Dominic had to go seriously the way to be professional player and this was slowly showing to happen, this is for next 10 or 15 years the central point of our life.

When 12 years old, Dominic started to lose.

The fourth milestone

With one hand

The double-handed backhand was the symbol for short-term success.

We could reach our long-term goal only with a single-handed backhand.

When the lock in Dominic’s head started to work, it was time to start to work on the backhand.

Finally.

The biggest construction site.

The shot was disturbing me from the very beginning. Every hour, in which I did not work on that, I felt guilty. Over months I tried to let Dominic play so seldom the backhand – each forehand shot was an investment in the future Dominic, each backhand shot – a fallback to the old Dominic.

The player in my head was hitting single-handed backhand like Cedric Pioline, Stefan Edberg, Arnaud Boetsch, Gaston Gaudio or Boris (Becker – PRF). He could use variety: topspin, drive, slice, trajectory, length, he could build-up the game with this shot. To watch the player existing in my head, how he hits backhand, was also an aesthetic delight.

The player, standing before me, hold the racket with both hands like he was going to strangle it.

I think, Dominic was about 12 when I asked him for the first time to get his left hand off the racket.

This was the golden era of double-handed backhand. Roger Federer was the only one single SHBH-er in the Top Ten, on the other side – Nadal, Roddick, Safin, Davydenko, Agassi, Coria, Nalbandian, Johansson. The double-handed backhand was seen as the shot of the future. The reach was shorter but one could hit back and control the high bouncing topspin balls also on the height of the shoulder or even higher. How difficult was it with one hand, one could see even with Federer and his problems with Nadal’s forehand topspin.

To accept only the highest tempo possible, to the point of exhaustion, was not my malicious mood but prerequisite for Dominic’s outstanding hitting skills.

Because good tennis skills have no limits. Everyone world-class shot is a fluent and harmonic swing, free, without any limitations. In the best case it relaxes muscles like the racket was thrown to the ball. (A shot must be that obvious, that it can be performed with closed eyes. In training I ask Dominic often to serve with covered eyes.)

Delays in the shot are the basic evil. The movement is carried instead of being swung. The energy is blocked and misdirected. The control Is lost.

Only a free swing makes the player able to control the ball when hitting with maximal tempo.

This freedom is most easily reached when the player is just tired.

 

 

The fifth milestone

The load tolerance

 Even if nothing goes well: a professional tennis player must nevertheless be able to win.

That “nevertheless” can be trained.

It’s false to create a nice environment for young players. Because they learn then to live and work in a nice environment. They get dependent from stable basic conditions. But the tour is not a laboratory. You are confronted here each day with new situations, weather, crowd, umpire, delays, different opponents.

It’s a job of a trainer to prepare his pupil for this.

I’m doing this principally from my very first hour spent with a new pupil.

A player saying, he can play only on court 3, is guaranteed to play next weeks on court 4. Who thinks, his cap is necessary, will play so long without it, until he has understood, it’s him, who decides about his performance, not the cap. A travel to the tournament I only possible, if daddy is also there? This is moving for me as a father. As a trainer I’m ordering travel ban for next three tournaments.

I know, many think, I’m arrogant and not sympathetic. But for a trainer it cannot matter if he is seen as sympathetic. His obligation is not to be loved but to get his work done.

One of my most important tasks is to teach my players to win. To win even if it’s going to be hard. When the temptation arrives to give up, stop to try, because external and internal resistances are too big, because “it does not make sense to make effort”, what a terrible sentence. It’s never pointless to make efforts.

Nothing is so easy as to lose.

You can lose without training, without effort.

The difference between winners and losers are the days, when it’s just about winning nevertheless.

This “nevertheless” one must learn.

It’s possible to learn.

It’s one of most important lessons for my pupils. No matter, if they will turn professional players some day or not.

The word, I have used most frequently in Dominic’s learning time was just “load tolerance”.

Dominic was no more one of the best in his age category in Austria. He was no more good enough to be sent to international tournaments. But he was since long time my dearest student. Dominic was for me just like enormous, wonderful, perfect piece of marble for a sculptor – I could see this growing every day.

Here it goes ro PART 3

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7 Replies to “THE DOMINIC THIEM METHOD part 2”

  1. Hello friend! I have been reading your writings about Dominic on this website for a few weeks now. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on Dominic and tennis. I have found your analysis to be very well-balanced and honest. Great job! Also, many thanks for translating Bresnik’s book for us anglophones. Quite a fascinating read so far. I don’t agree with Bresnik’s power-focused tennis philosophy because I don’t think it is very smart at the elite level and any top 50 ATP player can figure out how to take advantage of the pace and power thrown at them. David Goffin does this very well and that’s why Dominic has a losing record against him. I am also afraid Dominic’s high octane game might cause serious injuries somewhere down the road that might shorten his career or hamper his opportunities. Dominic needs to play smart, not try to blast everyone off the court. What’s the point of hitting 140+ mph serves when they are all out? But it doesn’t seem like Bresnik teaches his pupils how to play smart tennis and neither does he focus at all on the mental aspect of tennis, which from my experience (I played competitive tennis in high school for 3 years), make or break you. I have been disheartened to read about Dominic’s recent mental struggles on the court and Bresnik’s “annoyance” of such frivolity. I don’t think Dominic would be where he is today without Bresnik, but I am starting to suspect that maybe Dominic has outgrown Bresnik’s coaching style. Of course, I am a huge fan of Dominic and will support him through thick and thin, but I couldn’t help but worry that his poor second half of 2017 season could extend into next year. I hope Dominic can come out of this funk soon but more importantly, I hope Dominic can find happiness on the court again! Life is too short to be doing something you are not happy doing.

    Have a nice day!

    Marjorie
    California, USA

  2. Hi Marjorie,
    Thanks and I hope to see more of your comments soon 🙂
    I have still doubts as to power-orientation and Bresnik’s coaching style. The second half of 2017 was very hard for Dominic’s fans. But does not seem to be that hard for him. As you can read in my translation (sorry for far-from-perfect English – I’m Pole), this is not the first time for Dominic to have to overcome “revolutions” in his game and accompanying losses. Something about that you can read in the last-minute update of my translation. It’s about switching to single-handed backhand and much telling Bresnik’s saying about Dominic finally starting to lose matches. But this was the way Dominic started with Bresnik long ago and look, where he is now and how his ranking history looks like. Not to say about the progress in his game.
    Maybe I’m wrong (I do play recreational tennis 15 years now), but I think, it’s by no mean a power-tennis. The power of his shots doesn’t come from muscles – he is far from being a muscle pack like Rafa. It comes from perfect hitting skills – preparation, timing, follow-through.
    Now this year Dominic started another revolution, namely to take balls earlier and play more flat balls and serve more aces and play more and with more feeling at the net. Even in matches he lost, he was still playing his best hard court tennis ever. And Bresnik’s concept, fully accepted by Dominic, is – first to learn and use best shots, then look to the scoreboard. Better you give an excellent performance (because it will stay for ever) than excellent results. They will come. I’m quite sure, Dominic 2018 will be able to play clay game on clay and hard court game on hard. This year he was a bit mixing both. Playing hard court game and one day winning another day losing. Or playing clay game on hard (like Rafa does) to win a bit more but lose consistency and confidence. I’m quite sure, this is only an unavoidable stage in his development. Thanks to Bresnik’s concept Dominic can survive bad times in terms of results if he knows, his game is going to be better and not better because of some incidental circumstances, but is going to be better for ever. I’m understanding this better, just while translating the book. As I was reading the book for the first time, I was “only” reading. Now I’m reading and writing and when translating, I must go deeper into understanding. And I think, Dominic is still happy on court and off court.
    Expect lots of interesting things about Dominic as the translation progresses 🙂
    Cheers

  3. Again a word about David Goffin (as an example of a smart player). I’m following David since longer than Dominic and know a lot about him. I like his personality but I cannot watch his game. Yes, he is a fighter, he is good tactician he can play aggressively, he can make use of weaknesses of the opponent. This is all an essence of everything, Dominic’s game is not intended to be. Losing record to Goffin does not mean so much. Like losing record of Fed to Rafa. Let them both to be on top of the game and meet frequently each other … in finals 🙂 I do expect, the new Big4 could be Dimitrov, Thiem, Zverev and Goffin. Two siongle-handers against two double-handers. Interesting. Let’s see, what happens next year.

    1. A losing record may not mean much to you, but it does have some meaning for the players, particularly when they incurred the losses not long ago before they have to face the same player again .
      It’s not a coïncidence that Roger Federer preferred playing Goffin over Thiem in the Nitto ATP SF’s, and that Goffin preferred to play Sock over Dimitrov in the Nitto ATP finals.
      Keep up your work about Dominik Thiem. I enjoy reading these thoughts (in english).

  4. You are welcome, wilfried. I appreciate every comment a lot, because it helps me (and other readers or commenters) to understand things better.
    Could you read Bresnik’s book in German original?
    To have read the whole book means, you can answer lots of question you would not be able to, only knowing Dominic from observing matches or reading interviews, match reports a.s.o.
    In terms of Bresnik’s “school” the losing or winning record is meaningless, because every match has different preconditions and you can very easily have a situation, in which player A regularly beats player B and player B regularly beats player C, who regularly beats player A 😉
    As to Fed in ATP Finals I think he didn’t expect from David what happened in the match and he did expect Dominic to be potentially harder opponent. But I think, it was only courtesy and Fed was quite sure (FedFans too) to win the title or maybe was a bit scared of big-form Dimitrov.
    I have posted here an article about “Angstgegner” (also in English). I’m regular (hobby) player and I have my “Angstgegner” too. But Bresnik’s concept (and I was following it even before knowing that such a person exist) means, everything depends on your performance, if you are one of top players. If you deliver your best performance, nobody can beat you or the other delivers his best too and then we have an epic match.
    Again about David and Dominic. They are friends and train often together, so they know each other very well. David is a typical hard-courter, taking the ball very early and thus gaining capability to use sharp angles. This is a problem for any opponent on fast hard courts. As we have seen, this applies to Federer too. Goffin had totally losing record to Fed and decided to do the only thing, giving him a chance. Namely to play even faster and take balls earlier than Fed. Quite impossible? It proved to be possible, old good Fed is now to slow and his endurance not that great, so he lost. But maybe you think about mental aspects of knowing – ah, my opponent is ranked lower but has winning record against me, so I will probably lose. This is something not to expect from Dominic, who was teached by Bresnik to play under extremely difficult conditions and still win. But maybe to some extent it’s hard to forget about last loss. The only question is – this can result either in playing better own game or adapt it to the opponent (against Bresnik’s rules) or in being scared, making more errors, failing under pressure. Too complex, but every player must find his solutions – sometimes it goes well, another time not.
    And yeah – I will continue the translation – there is still a lot of interesting things about how Dominic was grown-up to top player 🙂
    Nice evening

  5. Just read about what was the “work” of Vallverdu, to make Dimitrov successful. His words from an ATP interview. He has “simplified” Dimitrov’s game because it was “too rich”. So Dimitrov had too many options and not always did choose the right one.
    Maybe Vallverdu really made Dimitrov a winner for one year or two. But at the same time stopped his development, making his tennis more effective, but blocking his talent, If this continues, Dimitrov can show to be one-season-star. I do prefer Bresnik, who is still teaching and developing Dominic’s tennis, temporarily letting him lose. Read the fragment about Dominic’s first bog revolution. And Bresnik’s saying “Dominic started to lose. Finally.” It was just necessary to bring him to another level. I’m sure, Bresnik still does not care much of Dominic’s big wins right now. Better a bit later, but with ability to use whole his talent on every surface, against every opponent. I believe, this time will come. Don’t know, when, but it’s coming quite quickly if you observe Dominic’s ranking and his way to the top. Partly painful, but what really matters, is just to be one a good way – once more quoting Bresnik. You can deliver the performance. But the success must happen. Extremely unique relation between player and coach if you know enough about it 🙂

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