Interview | Dominic Thiem

“If I finish top 50 at the end of the year, it would be a good year”

Dominic Thiem at Roland Garros
Dominic Thiem at his beloved Roland Garros where he has been twice a finalist | Crosscourt View

Limerick has never been short of sporting excellence, be it rugby legend Paul O’Connell, Champions League winner Steve Finnan, or the county’s dominant hurling team. It has also nurtured some talented tennis players in the Niland family and Sam Barry.

But despite that heritage, it was a surreal experience to watch Dominic Thiem, the former world no.3 and 2020 US Open champion, help his nation to a 4-0 victory over Ireland at the UL Arena last weekend.

Ahead of the tie, the 30-year-old was excited to join up with Jurgen Melzer’s Austria side at a fresh backdrop for top level tennis.

“I really wanted to play as well in September against Portugal, but [there were] problems with the stomach. Happy to be back and as well my first time in Ireland, which is very nice. You know we are travelling a lot but mostly the same countries, so it's cool to make a new experience.’

Thiem’s buoyant demeanour throughout the weekend was reassuring given his difficult start to the 2024 season.

Ranked 98th going into Brisbane in the first week, Thiem had to battle through two rounds of qualifying just to make the main draw there. His reward for that endeavour could not have been less fortuitous…Rafael Nadal.

After a year out through injury, the 22-time grand slam champion returned to action at the event and vanquished Thiem’s hopes with a 7-5 6-1 scoreline.

Unfortunately for the Austrian, his luck would not improve at the Australian Open as Thiem was drawn against the former world no.6 Felix Auger-Aliassime in the opener. After a bruising encounter that lasted five hours in the Melbourne heat, the Canadian eventually triumphed 6-3 7-5 6-7 5-7 6-3.

“I lost both tournaments I played in the first round, which is not a great start. But if you look at the names, it looks different. Rafa and Felix are two amazing players. Yeah, from time to time I played well. Sets 3,4,5 in Australia were really good but yeah, not consistent enough and that’s why I couldn’t win.’

A devastating top 10 player from 2016 to 2021, Thiem has endured a rollercoaster time since then with a wrist injury that kept him off tour for 10 months, erratic form and the end of his highly successful partnership with coach Nicolas Massu. There was promise last summer though as he made the final of his home event in Kitzbuhel.

Thankfully, the wrist issue which impaired his blockbuster game seems to be in the rear view mirror with Thiem confirming that it’s “perfect since a long time”.

Since returning to the tour healthy in March 2022, the Austrian has worked his way up from a ranking floor of 352 to his current position just inside the top 100. Thiem's ambition for 2024 is clear.

“If I finish top 50 at the end of the year, it would be a good year. Then I could also make some good plans for the next season. Yeah, I’ll work hard. Hopefully (Limerick) is going to be an important step towards this goal. Top 50 would be great.’

For a four-time major finalist who can boast multiple victories over Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Nadal in his career, you would hope that’s attainable.

Still, nostalgia for those memorable performances when Thiem overwhelmed the sport’s best through gargantuan groundstrokes, athleticism, feel and grit, can chafe as much as soothe.

“It’s great to have those experiences, to have those memories. It’s really helping me in a way with all the experiences I made. But at the same time, it’s the past you know and I cannot really buy something with those matches or with those experiences.'

While he looked unconvincing in the first set, Thiem did find some of that searing power secure his first win of the season against Ireland’s Michael Agwi in Limerick. After participating in the Ultimate Tennis Showdown this week in Oslo, the 30-year-old is set to headline some Challenger events in March.

One of the most exciting players the tour - and this writer - have witnessed over the past 25 years, let’s hope that ‘Domi’ can summon some old magic as the 2024 season progresses.

"In tennis, you know every day is new, and every opponent is a new challenge, and that’s how I’m looking at it."

Words lightly edited for readability. With thanks to Breifne Holohan for sound assistance.


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