Early arrival in Australia, confidence helping Thiem: coach


MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Dominic Thiem is reaping the benefits of arriving in Australia extra early, his coach said on Saturday, building the Austrian’s confidence for his Australian Open title clash against Novak Djokovic on Sunday.

Djokovic comprehensively beat Rafa Nadal in last year’s final at Melbourne Park to lift the Australian Open trophy for a record seventh time and has been in prime form this year.

Djokovic arrived at the year’s first Grand Slam having won all six of his singles matches in Serbia’s title run at the inaugural ATP Cup. The 32-year-old then lost only one set in his six matches at the Australian Open, in his opening round outing against German Jan-Lennard Struff.

But it is Thiem, 26, who will step on to the Rod Laver Arena on Sunday having won four of the pair’s past five clashes. The fifth-seeded player took down world number one Rafa Nadal in the quarter-final before his win against German Alexander Zverev in the semi-final on Friday.

Thiem also played in the ATP Cup in Melbourne at the start of January, but opted to head Down Under even earlier, arriving before Christmas, to begin preparations.

“We are here in Australia one month and a half, practising, focusing on this tournament. Dominic was motivated to come early to prepare,” coach Nicolas Massu said.

“It’s a big motivation to beat players like Nadal, No. 1 in the world, in the center court in a slam. Always make you so happy because you work for this.

“Everyone knows that is difficult to play against Nole (Djokovic) because he’s unbelievable player. But if Dominic is in the final (it) is because he deserves it.”

An acclaimed clay-court player and a two-time runner-up at Roland Garros, Thiem won three of his five titles in 2019 on hard court and also picked up his first hard court win against the Serb at the ATP Finals.

“For me the most important thing is that Dominic plays his game. I think he’s playing really well,” said Chilean Massu, who won gold medals in the 2004 Athens Olympics in both men’s singles and doubles.

“I believe since I started working with him that he can play every surface. He’s also a very complete player.

“For me the most important thing is confidence. You are alone in this sport. You have to take decisions. Sometimes small details make big difference. But I think it’s confidence, that makes you believe you can play same tennis on both surfaces.”

Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Jane Wardell