Dear, ATP Younger . . .



Let me tell you something: If you want something, you at least have to try to accomplish whatever goal you have in mind (ala Mueller 😉 ). Did I just state the obvious? You and I both know this is not a bullshit self-help blog.

I have been having a nice bit of tennis conversation with a reader who is a Thiem aficionado (see his solid comments in this post). The discussion revolves around this reader’s attention to my criticism of Bresnik, Thiem’s coach/manager. I firmly believe that Dominic can get better coaching, but what I miss-on is the depth of that relationship. I know Bresnik has basically had a hand in raising the (still) young Austrian. But one can see, imo, some glaring patterns in his game that make him simply too vulnerable to qualified competition. I’ve been over this. Make some changes.

Along these same lines, interesting to see the perspective from Vajda regarding his conditions to agree to return to coaching Nole. This is nuts-and-bolts stuff, folks.

1. Quit treating tennis like a philosophy — it’s a practice.
2. Get rid of the philosopher.
3. Eat more like what an athlete eats (because you’re an athlete).
4. Extension of eating, let’s build more muscle, cuz you’re an athlete.

I love it.

Asked if he had wanted Djokovic to stop consulting with former player and academy owner Pepe Imaz, who advocated a ‘Peace and Love’ approach to the game, Vajda said that he did.

“Yes…but it was not my No. 1 condition,” he said. “That was speaking to Novak in person. The second was that we set specific rules and plans for the next few months. At the second tournament together in Barcelona, we had a full team, and we sat and talked.”

They told Djokovic that they wanted a change in approach.

“We [said] we would not like it if those around were as intrusive as before. We wanted him to play tennis not as a philosophy but as a practice,” he said. “I was not wanting Novak to be influenced by people who know what tennis is but don’t understand the mentality of a top athlete. Tennis cannot be based on a philosophy. It’s a mano a mano sport. If you want to be at the top, the path is through practice and repetition, playing and a good mentality.

“We all pulled towards this and worked hard.”

Another priority was to build back Djokovic’s physical conditioning.

“He has an athletic build ideal for tennis…but it was necessary to strengthen his muscles,” said Vajda. “Gebhard Phil-Gritsch worked a lot on his fitness, and the muscle mass returned. Source

Thiem and Zverev are the only two youngsters that seem to have some deep major draw game at this point (see the little exchange on Zverev between me and my Polish friend — like minds).

Zverev hired Lendl from what I hear. Either way, the proof is in the results: Thiem and Zverev the younger have a few that count, for sure; especially Thiem.

The Edmund, Kyrgios, Chung, Shapovalov, Coric types are completely unproven in Bo5.

We are a long way from home, people. We’re lost, hungry and scared.


19 thoughts on “Dear, ATP Younger . . .

  1. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    Hi Matt,
    Inspiring thoughts 🙂
    About deep relationships with coaches. You wrote in another article about uncle Toni and his old school values, he implemented to Rafa. The passion must have been there before. Thiem is made of similar clay (!) as Rafa. Bresnik is a similar potter to Toni.
    I know, Thiem will stay so long with Bresnik until Bresnik fells, he cannot give him more. But look on Rafa. Where is Carlos Moya? Just like Lendl for Andy and Edberg for Fed, it was short-time inspiration. Don’t expect more from a former top player. Agassi failed completely to be new inspiration for Novak. Peter Carter would maybe still coach Federer if not the bad fortune. Now there is Lüthi. Really a coach? Does really Djokovic or Federer or Nadal need a coach? If they do, who could be better than the one, with which the relation was that deep?
    A player being mature in terms of skills and level can get inspiration from any source – first of all from own matches.
    Well, I’m just trying to keep my post short (but it isn’t short anymore;))
    Thiem can take inspiration from practicing with Rafa or Fed or Novak (it’s mostly Rafa) or from playing those, who can do something better than him. Not how to do the trick to have lower skills but better ability to win. Rather how to execute better his skills. Rafa is here maybe the best one. But currently not (yet) available as coach. After Rafa quits (not before he’s 58 ;), he probably would like to be an “inspiration coach” for Thiem 🙂


    1. Wladyslaw,
      Thanks for the comments. A busy weekend kept me away from the blog.
      I’ll go through and find the couple of posts you commented on and reply.

      On this one here, I think coaching is pretty consequential actually. Look at the examples with the big 3. Federer may be the one where coaching has not been as significant, but I have argued that his 2017 resurgence has a lot to do with Ivan.

      Novak’s coaching seems pretty important too. Granted, he’s had some other issues, personal, injury, etc., but Becker seemed to help quite a bit (especially with WB I would argue), and here Marian has helped.

      Toni’s influence on Rafa is quite pretty well documented. And Moya seems to have helped too.

      Look at Andy Murray’s situation. Without Lendl he probably (definitely) has no majors.

      Norman’s influence on Stan? Influential. Norman appears to be quite the coach.

      I still need to dig into Bresnik/Thiem. Thiem again over the weekend looked a little benign. This is the big concern: he will not be able to out-hit players who are just more powerful than he, nor will an aging tennis player be able to use such a strategy unless he’s already a massive power serve with, for instance, Wawrinka-like power.


      1. PRF - Władysław Janowski

        I’m trying to get some answers directly from Bresnik. Not easy, because he hates media and PR and such things. But I think, Bresnik has some new vision/concept for Thiem. So far there was a progress all the time. You may think – too slow. 2 years from first Paris SF to first Paris F. And not much more. But we don’t know – maybe this is just the right way for Thiem? And Bresnik has added since some 2-3 years a touring coach. I don’t know, how good is Galo Blanco in this job. But he is really a professional coach. Not like Lendl or Becker or Ljubicic. They are some inspirational personalities. And yes, maybe such personalities can add big things in a short period. But what remains basics is the mastercoach, in most cases the first one like Toni for Rafa, Vajda for Djoker or Bresnik for Thiem. And the player himself – at some stage the player knows better, what he needs, from playing experience, which is unique for everyone and only the player knows, what he is missing and what he want (according to his own personality) to add to the game.
        Yes, I think, you should read Bresnik’s book or at least some parts of it. An inspiration coach for Thiem would maybe help him to win some big things, but this could cost a conflict with Bresnik and Dominic losing his basic coach.
        And I don’t see, who could be an inspiration coach for Thiem. If not Rafa. Or Fed 😉 Maybe Rafa after he retires and then would like to help Thiem to make another step forward – to win slams. I can see, what Rafa could give Thiem, what Thiem misses and Rafa has in abuse.
        In any case we can only speculate. And we don’t know really about influence of inspiration coaches. Maybe that’s only timely coincidence with Lendl or Becker or Norman?


      2. PRF - Władysław Janowski

        About power game and ageing. I take Federer. Federer was over years an outstanding, aggressive baseline player (I don’t dare to compare Thiem to Federer!), almost only playing backhand slice. After many years and with ageing started, he changed completely the game. Added serve&volleying, SABR, topspin backhand and more. And changed the racket. Why cannot Thiem do the same, when ageing starts for him? With Thiem’s hitting skills (he plays very good backhand slices but at the same time lots of toppin backhands) and fitness he will be able to continue the current style for some years. After this stops to work, he can implement changes. He is learning every year. 2 years ago he could not play good volleys or dropshots, now he plays – not very often, but very well 🙂


  2. Yeah Federer is a tough comparison. Federer used S&V early in his career — he has had this all-court tennis most if not his entire career. He moved to BL when the sport did, where coming to net became more and more risky. Federer has returned to his S&V tennis in recent years.

    Thiem’s mental approach and his ground strokes (even his serve on occasion) are first rate. He’s a special talent. Period.

    But what any tennis fan sees in watching the Austrian is his continual reliance on such a giant cut at the ball. This may be his style, but he has to be able to adjust. Younger guys just this year like Tsitsipas and Jarry have shown that sitting back on the BL and exchanging big ground strokes becomes problematic if they are as big or bigger and that’s what they expect.

    Without overthinking this, Dominic’s overly physical (you can hear him strain) cut at the ball is counter-productive (on every swing).

    And again, is this good for Bo5?

    I am not too worried about Thiem. Did you see somewhere my use of the play-on-words: We Beliem in Thiem! ??

    We have been excited about the Austrian for some time. I’m just wanting him to go deeper in the draw, translate his game to other surfaces more consistently, etc.

    Maturity and variety tend to go hand-in-hand. And you’re right that he has been developing.

    I have just commented consistently on how vulnerable he can look. Against the better players, those short-comings (too far behind the BL, taking too many big cuts at the ball to seemingly no avail) get exploited.

    I will look at more of those comments today, Wlady. Keep the comments coming.

    Again, we beliem in Thiem. 😀


    1. PRF - Władysław Janowski

      Yes, Matt, I like your “beliem” – it’s like Thiem’s “Bamos” – apparently from nowhere, but I think it’s from “Vamos”, who knows?
      I would mostly agree with you about all Thiem’s deficits (read here, if you din’t yet) and I’m quite sure, in a year or two we will get from Bresnik a kind of Thiem 2.x and we will wonder, if this is the same player from two years ago (meaning today).
      I’m trying to emulate new Bresnik’s vision. I think, Thiem 2.x will have all those deficits gone and Thiem being complete player like Fed, Novak or Rafa. And I bet they are working on this since at least one year, but Thiem uses new things in the game first when they both are sure, they are perfect. In two years Thiem can turn serial killer on Tour 🙂
      Yes, I want him coming deep in every big tournament on every surface too. Just take a “small white pill” (from Delpo) for patience and wait a year of two.
      As I explained you, we can assume, Thiem is now about 21, so many many years for him to come on tour 🙂
      BTW – according to my observations, best Thiem’s matches (including some wins) come just again the top players. But so far (what a ridiculous thing) never two in a row 😉


    2. PRF - Władysław Janowski

      This here is because you seem to like acronyms, abbreviations, neologisms 🙂 Here is one I invented for Thiem’s new return (well it was new in 2017). Here it goes
      Why right now? Because I just observed today Dominic testing this again in Kitzbühel doubles. But last year he started it on grass and enden in AO 2018. If he tests it again, it means, he have maybe perfectioned it in the meantime and just about to start preparation for hard court season. It’s kind of Feds SABR, but SABR is too extreme and does not bring many points, only the surprise effect). Dominic’s SRBD is more safe, but more dynamic and brings more often direct points or at least takes the opponent time. Have you ever noticed this? I think, I have somewhere a slow-motion video of the shot.


    1. That ROS is splendid. The BH DTL is anyways, so to that kind of aggressive shot on return hopefully means more of this.

      I did see the deficit post on your blog. I liked the discussion of the predictability of his shots. In general, when he’s hitting that BH DTL, he’s very tough. That shot is just brutal. Federer, Wawrinka . . . when they’re hitting that shot with confidence, the opponent struggles.

      I love Dominic’s one-hander and this looks good — thanks for sharing.


      1. PRF - Władysław Janowski

        I would differentiate between Fed+Thiem and Stan. Stan’s power shots come more from his physical strength. Fed and also Thiem are not so physically strong. Thiem is not very muscular not comparable with Rafa. For Fed and Thiem the power of return (a lot bigger for Thiem) comes from the perfect timing. Another difference between Fed and Thiem. Fed plays almost everything half-volley from the stand, using the opponent’s power. Thiem needs for his hitting technique a deep swing, that’s – I think – why he prepares for this return doing this specific movement’s sequence. But Fed’s SABR means mostly slicing to opponent’s backhand and covering the net to finish with a volley. Thiem tries to hit a winning return. Today he hit a similar return but with forehand. This was new for me – the swinging sequence was there, but the shot was the forehand. I will try to find this moment and make another slo-mo video.


      2. You sent he BH ROS video. His court position and the BH to that deuce side is strong (but this is doubles so tough to say how this translates to singles).

        What I meant by Stan and Roger, when the one handed is DTL vs primarily CC, they are that much more difficult. The DTL shot used well from either side can be unplayable.


  3. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    Yeah, DTL OHB or F on return – too risky, but probably not necessary. Still would be a tremendous shot 🙂


      1. PRF - Władysław Janowski

        Well, imagine BH DTL played on return on deuce court – an over-run BH DTL RETURN 😉


  4. PRF - Władysław Janowski

    Just thinking, why many people with deep knowledge of tennis are misinterpreting his winning/losing behavior. Well, most of them, you guys probably too, don’t know too much about Thiem’s character. So I decided to tell you. It’s THIEM BASICS. It’s about great players being able to win big matches even if they are not playing their best. It’s maybe hard to believe, but it works completely different with Thiem. If Thiem feels, his performance is not good enough to win by moving and hitting better than the opponent, he loses motivation. Yes, he tries to bring his top performance back. If it’s not his day, this ends in lots of errors and consequently a loss. Most of others try in such a case every possible things to win even not performing well. They have some routines and tricks to show the opponent “ah, it was only one poor game” and hold the opponent under emotional pressure. Thiem makes the opposite (of course not a good way to eventual win) – he sets himself under more and more pressure, trying to rise the level, and if this does not work, he is OK with the loss. Dolgopolov said once about Djokovic something like this “he is playing dead and you think, you can beat him with ease – then, all of a sudden, he unfolds his thousand legs, all running towards you and you know, you have no chance. Thiem will never have (or even try to want to have) this ability. Expect him to win big things, when his performance is top and he feels that.


    1. That makes sense. I think a lot of players fold if they’re not feeling 100%. Rafa doesn’t have his best now, and he’s managing to make his opponent beat himself, which is typical Rafa defensive tennis.

      You pointed-out Novak and Roger has the same characteristic — not as hard of a fighter as the first two, but think of Fed’s career consistency. That means he too can play with less than a full deck.

      I think Thiem, then, is more typical.


      1. PRF - Władysław Janowski

        Well, I know, what ypou mean, but it’s different with Thiem. Many fold because of feeling they have no chance to win. Thiem does not fold but gets angry about own performance and at the same time feels, he probably does not deserve the win. Is this typical?


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