Joel Drucker: Thiem Takes Title – Good News or Bad News?

Dominic Thiem won the Rio Open yesterday. For most players, that would only be good news. It was Thiem’s eighth career tournament win, his profound physicality helping him earn the title without the loss of a set.

But does Thiem play too much? His February has been nonstop: Sofia, Rotterdam, across the Atlantic to Brazil, this week Acapulco – quite the buildup towards the high-stakes North American tournaments, Indian Wells and Miami. Over the course of the last year, Thiem has played 28 tournaments -- eight more than anyone else in the top ten. Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori and Marin Cilic have each played 20, while the man just behind Thiem, Roger Federer, has logged 14. Such is the flow of the rankings that despite earning a title last week, Thiem actually dropped a spot, from eight to nine.

In 2016, Thiem played superb in the first half of the year, taking titles on clay, grass and hardcourts. He also reached his first Grand Slam semi, going to the final four at Roland Garros. But the rest of his ’16 was less impressive – no titles, a second round exit at Wimbledon and a mid-match retirement in the fourth round of the US Open. Clearly, he was worn down.

This is a shame. Thiem is an incredibly devoted player, all business in practice, during matches, in conversation. His playing style has a lot going for it – power, spin, a reasonable amount of versatility and, quite pleasing to many, a one-handed backhand that has its own mix of elegance and brute force.

Clearly, he likes competing. But as a player ripens, he surely has studied the need for proper pacing. As well as Thiem’s 2016 was in the aggregate, let it also be noted that the Masters 1000 events, he only twice reached the quarters.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing something repeatedly and expecting different results. Hopefully Thiem, a devout student of the game, will in time learn this lesson too.

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