Tennis Prose



Did Stubborness Cost Thiem His First Major?

Some of the best players in history have shown devout stubborness in their sometimes questionable decisions. Remember Boris Becker insisting on trying to beat Agassi from the baseline instead of attacking the net, losing eight times in a row to Agassi from 1990-1995.

Remember Pete Sampras refusing to change his racquet to a larger framed head to help fortify his backhand which sometimes broke down later in his career. Pete later admitted he should have changed his racquet.

Now it’s Dominic Thiem who is under scrutiny for firing new coach Thomas Muster, just a week before his five set AO final loss to Novak Djokovic yesterday.

Thiem’s father Wolfgang said:

“We were thinking to try it out. Actually after two weeks, Dominic said that it doesn’t fit together. I mean, he had some good experience.”

“Of course, he was a really good player. But for me the most important thing is that the coach understands what the player needs and not that the coach wants to make a copy of himself.”

“Dominic is already 26 years, so he has his personality. This was for me the main point, that Dominic needs someone who gives him the space, who gives him the free space to develop, to play his game.”

“He always needs some advices, but short advices. If you have someone who says too much, who is too much into it, then it doesn’t work.”

“Hopefully he’s mature enough now. After two weeks he said, No, it doesn’t fit.”

Muster’s side of the story:

“It is like this: There are houses which look nice from the outside, wonderful from the outside, but you rarely know who lives inside.”

“He’s a fine guy and likes to learn a lot, but he has also got some shortcomings he has to work on if he wants to be at the top.”

“He has improved a lot, but he to catch up in the technical, physical and foremost in the mental area.”

“To be honest I have seen myself in this role for the next two years. Why he has chosen differently – I know why, but I don’t want to say the details.”

For Thiem’s father to say Dominic is 26 and has personality indicates a stubborness on Dominic’s part, to listen to Muster’s advice to be more of a fierce lion on the court, to use more emotional adrenaline. Thiem’s intensity is not enough. To beat the greatest player of all time, Djokovic, in a major final, Thiem needs more passion, fury and emotional adrenaline. I believe Muster knows this and pushed hard to make Thiem understand and accept it. To play with the level of fury and passion he did.

But Thiem “has his personality” locked in, and can’t and won’t change it so he rejected the advice.

My opinion is that Team Thiem is wrong here. Stan Wawrinka did not become the “Stanimal” until his late 20s. Before he summoned his Stanimal level – and won three majors – Stan was a mostly passive, contained, introverted player, like Thiem is now.

Kevin Anderson was also a more passive, introverted player until a couple of years ago, he became much more aggressive emotionally on the court, exhorting himself on and fist pumping to express his emotional adrenaline. Guess what? Anderson reached his best career results – two major finals.

What Thiem is doing is not working. In the fifth set in the 2-3 game, Thiem did start grunting and letting it all hang out and played a monster point which he won from the baseline. I thought to myself, Wow, if Thiem keeps playing at that savage, beast mode intensity, he can win this. But of course, Thiem did not, he slipped back into his comfort zone and did not summon that same intensity, passion, life or death obsession to win the match.

The life and death obsession, ultimate beast mode, has been shown often by Serena, Maria, Hewitt, Nadal, Djokovic. They roar, scream, transform into wild, savage, vicious competitors. Because that’s what it takes sometimes. Get down and dirty and lay it all on the line. Thiem looks like he has more to give, more to lay on the line, especially emotionally. And that’s what I believe it will take for Thiem to win a major in this era, the most ferocious, unforgiving, merciless era in tennis history. Laying it all out there on the court.

Muster sees what is missing in Thiem and by the sounds of things, probably pushed far too hard to make Thiem understand. Thiem resisted stepping out of his comfort zone, or was too proud and stubborn to listen to Muster – or was offended by the blunt delivery of the message – and dismissed him.

Some top pro and junior players just don’t want to be told the truth because they can’t handle it or won’t accept it. I know a top junior who picked a minor league coach with no track record of developing a pro player in three decades. She stayed with him for a year and finally decided to part ways and then two months later won the biggest tournament of her life.

Thiem has reached a point in his career where he has to realize his methods are not working and they may never work. Some kind of change or revision has to be made. Only a player who ruled as world no. 1 and won a Grand Slam major title may be equipped to assist Thiem to make that final step to accomplishing the near impossible dream he is so close to making come true.

If Gunther Bresnik and Nico Massu had over a year to teach Thiem, a coach with the history of sucess of Thomas Muster certainly deserved more than a couple of weeks.

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  • Jeff · February 2, 2020 at 3:42 pm

    You can see my comments on the other thread on Muster trying to stay relevant since he knows Thiem will become the greatest Austrian. Pathetic on Muster’s part. He was 0-3 against Kuerten, 2-9 against Sampras, 1-4 in Slams against Courier. Muster hardly was a big-match player and a choke artist in his own right.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 3:55 pm

    Wawrinka was a doormat. With Magnus Norman, he wasn’t.

    I do get worried seeing players complacent. I get it – Australian Open finals, magnificent achievement. Fantastic work. Just extraordinary.

    Sure about that? Where’s the praise today for Robin Soderling? Cedric Pioline? Anyone heard of Martin Verkerk? Still excited about Tomas Berdych? Rainer Schüttler?

    As much as I loved Baghdatis and Fernando Gonzalez, both past Aussie finalists, I am nonetheless reminded of what Brad Gilbert recently said.

    Best four things a player hears after a slam final.

    Game. Set. Match. Your name.

    And yes I think Thiem is soft in slam finals. He is until he isn’t.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 4:00 pm

    Anyone too sure of their ability not to tap a player like Muster, probably needs to hear more of what they don’t want to hear.

    Stefanki said this about Thiem before. That’s two major tennis people in a row knocking top player Thiem. After a while, and seeing him lost to Tsitsipas in the ATP finals while knocking everyone else out, you begin to wonder if this is a pattern. In light of his performance on the world’s largest stages, I think it is.

    So, remove Muster and put Stefanki’s name in there and it’s the same. Stefanki said Thiem was a great player, just Massu wasn’t focusing on much other than keeping him happy.

    Contrast this with what Wawrinka said after hearing that his coach Magnus Norman was happy with his performance during the Australian Open in 2014, before the quarterfinal and the Djokovic match:

    if my coach is happy, I’m happy.

    Suddenly it’s if Thiem’s happy, that’s all that matters.

    Kenin wasn’t happy during her match…she was furious…with herself…for winning points!

    Thiem is complacent until proven otherwise. I’m sorry he didn’t knock Djokovic off in the warrior fifth set as he was supposed to to win the biggest title of his career. Didn’t seem winded. Sure suggests that like Muster said he has a lot of work to do to be a better player.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    Wow, the Muster hate…not justified.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 2, 2020 at 4:05 pm

    Jeff, I think Muster’s ego is in check, he geniunely wanted to help Thiem and tried. Why else would he work with him? No chance it was a sabotage. Wolfgang made it clear Muster pushed too hard with his ideas and they didn’t like it.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 2, 2020 at 4:09 pm

    Work most importantly in the mental part. Key sentence by Muster. Look, we all like Thiem, we all know he has what it takes. Nice guy. But this is a case of nice guy finishing last, Again. Did Djokovic use a fake injury for those two injury timeouts? Would nice guy Thiem ever resort to that kind of trickery? Maybe he has to. Wozniacki did for her one and only major. Who remembers her fake injury timeout at 3-4 down in the third set vs Halep?

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 4:11 pm

    TP commenters putting down HOF inductees or soon to be inductees. I am convinced that few have even seen a Muster match. And I think anyone today with a Muster mentality would also challenge for slams, and if Thiem had played with that he’d have an Australian title now.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 4:12 pm

    Muster ripped players hearts out. Thiem is sweet and generous. That’s fine…after the match.

  • Hartt · February 2, 2020 at 4:15 pm

    Let’s see how Thiem does the rest of the season before writing him off.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 2, 2020 at 5:03 pm

    Muster won one major with one and half knees in a super tough era. Reached no. 1. Sensational career. Hall of Famer for sure. Should be in already with Goran, Chang, Gabby and Noya. Why is Moya not in?

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 7:09 pm

    Scoop’s question: yes, stubbornness. We’ve said this many times before – players dance with the one that brought them their success etc. This is three slams out of the last eight where Thiem’s made the final – fantastic. This time on a hard court – another plus showing he can do what he does on clay on the biggest hard court tournaments. But I think Scoop nailed it – Thiem clearly needs some other dimension to close the match out in four or five if he’s up two sets to one.

    Letting Djokovic back into any match is a mistake. It’s like he lives to see another day, and in living to see another day he sees another finish line and runs towards it.

    I’ve said this before too, the big three don’t need any more donations from other players – they have won more slams than anyone in history, and they have more slams than Thiem has in titles.

    I am hoping Zverev, or someone, can end the run in a final or before then. It is a very bad narrative for tennis with three guys, or more likely these days two guys, making the slams a shell game where they just win one after the other. Like a WWF wrestling match where each of them tags in the other when they can’t win it, or to get a breather.

    Thiem needs Massu and someone else. It’s time for these guys to see Djokovic hiring Ivanisevic etc to work on his volleys and serve and recognize you know what, I should have a serve coach. I should have a volley coach.

    He has enough money to do this now with his AO finals check. And if Massu were honest with him he’d bring in someone else too to help out the team. Sorry it’s not Muster, who obviously saw some things that needed work but spent too much time talking about it and had too little time to work with Thiem, or rubbed him the wrong way, or was too much of a jerk or something.

    There are plenty of other people that could help Massu out with this. Thiem will have to bring others in, or else he will keep getting stuck when he needs options.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 2, 2020 at 7:20 pm

    Muster touched on it. Mental areas he needs refining. I think we can all figure out what Muster alluded to. More intensity, more ferocity, more intensity, more fire, more arrogance, more ruthlessness. You can’t take out Djokovic with a top hat and tuxedo on, have to make it a brawl, a mental warfare, challenge his ego like Nick told Becker to do with Agassi/Shields (Becker was losing, started flirting with Shields and then won the match because Agassi mentally flipped out and unraveled). Thiem has to get down and dirty like that. Nice guy routine is just not getting it done. He’s predictable mentally. When he’s on court with Djokovic, we all know it’s Djokovic’s court. Somehow Thiem has to change that dynamic. He has to outshine and be the dominant personality on the court. I believe Muster knew that and hammered it home. But Thiem is not ready to go from Lon Chaney Jr to the Wolfman. Yet.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    Yep, Muster opponents’ life “tough”. He was thrilling to watch, and I am sorry if many fans don’t remember or don’t want to look into that. His matches were filled with “master and passion”, and he was strong on clay and hard courts (and bad on grass…very bad). His weaker moments in tennis were when he under-estimated the passion of his opponents, such as Andres Gomez in the 1990 French Open semifinal. Muster was playing very well that tournament, but had a fairly straightforward draw, Gomez lit him up. Wasn’t the same Gomez as he had played in Rome a few weeks earlier.

    If Muster had made the French final, I think he would have likely beaten Agassi that tournament, but hard to tell – they had a pretty good duel. Muster and Agassi respected each other, and Muster did NOT like Gilbert, but Gilbert wasn’t in Agassi’s camp at the time.

    Funny how that works. I had thought Muster and Agassi weren’t friends and had to read about it, and actually they were fine. Muster and Gilbert were not friends and Gilbert had the ability to bother Muster a lot (even if Muster was undefeated against Gilbert).

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 7:47 pm

    Muster, a master of wicked tennis. From Davis Cup 1990:

    “Muster arrived in Vienna with a 23-0 record on clay in Davis Cup competition, and he wasn’t about to let style prevail over his considerable emotional substance. Screaming, stoking, feeding off Agassi’s pace as well as the roaring arias from the crowd, Muster annihilated Agassi 6-2, 6-2, 7-6.”

    The U.S. still won that crazy tie against Austria in 1990, but Muster beat Agassi and Chang, badly. Muster knew how to use the elements. The crowd may not be part of the court, but every player should realize: THE CROWD IS PART OF THE TENNIS COURT. USE IT.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 7:49 pm

    Article on Diego Schwartzmann. Man, reading about this guy, I’d like him to do well.

    Also enjoyed the GQ piece on Tiafoe. Couldn’t help but feel Tiafoe must feel that he’s done very well and maybe that he doesn’t deserve to do better. It’s a little but of one of the best articles to appear on the site I think,

    “The Will to Lose”

    If you don’t think you belong, or believe you’re doing well enough, maybe others will show you otherwise in this brutal sport.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 2, 2020 at 7:56 pm

    I spoke with Gomez about his FO run in 1990 at Eddie Herr this year and he said he played better in the Muster semifinal than the final vs AA. He said the final vs AA was pretty easy and straight forward.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 2, 2020 at 7:58 pm

    Andrew, Thiem does not use the crowd at all. He only looks at his box. He has zero interaction with the crowd, like Djokovic and Nadal do. Thiem is an introvert on the court, like Wawrinka was. He has to change that. He can change it. Muster could teach him but he refuses to listen.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 2, 2020 at 8:00 pm

    Tiafoe desperate for a win in Dallas. Ryan Harrison also, vs tough kid Nakashima. Young vs Kozlov another battle with two starving desperate lions.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 8:03 pm

    Scoop, Thiem, 0-3 slam finals…he can’t keep doing what he’s doing. His game is big enough. The first one he was out-classed. The last two have been wars. He’s going to want to win a war or two. He had Djokovic right where he wanted him. Can’t let Houdini escape.

  • Hartt · February 2, 2020 at 8:08 pm

    Thanks for the link. Diego has a fascinating story. I see the article is part of a series, and am looking forward to reading some of the others.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 2, 2020 at 8:09 pm

    Andrew, Thiem was in the first final too vs Rafa at RG but choked his early chances and then it snowballed out of control. There is no doubt Thiem has the arsenal to win majors. No doubt. But he needs mental refining by a fierce passionate player like Muster or Coco. Or study young Hewitt videos. Thiem has to take over the court with his personality. Roar like a lion. Todd Martin Cedric Pioline intensity is not enough to slay a dragon like Djokovic. Have I made this point clear? 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 2, 2020 at 9:29 pm

    It’s a very interesting situation. Hope he proves me wrong, no one deserves the first major more. Best player of all time to not win a major is Thiem.

  • Jeff · February 2, 2020 at 9:32 pm

    How would Muster help Thiem in Australia. He never reached a final. He can get a job as a part-time clay coach and explain how to lose to a clay court titan like Pete Sampras at Roland Garros.

    Maybe Thiem just needs less tennis people in his life, a non-tennis gf could make all the difference.

    Muster was the one upset while the Thiems were not. That tells me all i need to know. Sour grapes for someone whose legacy is under threat.

  • Jeff · February 2, 2020 at 9:37 pm

    Also not sure what I am making up. Harold listed 10 players better on clay than Muster. Muster was 2-9 against Sampras and lost to him at Roland Garros. He was 1-4 in Slam matches against Courier, including 0-2 at Roland Garros. He beat Agassi on clay a few times, no doubt. Domi Thiem has also beaten Rafa on clay, however. And Muster was 0-3 against Kuerten.

    This is a player I am supposed to bow down to? Come on. Spare me if I can’t ‘Muster’ up any excitement for a player who couldn’t solve the clay court genius of Pete Sampras in a best of 5 match.

  • Matty · February 2, 2020 at 9:58 pm

    The “big 3” have now won 55 of the last 66 majors. Given that Stan & Andy have won three each, that doesn’t leave much room for anybody else. Can’t we just accept this reality??

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 2, 2020 at 10:03 pm

    No Matty, Thiem is right there, like Murray was. There has to be a missing link to push him that last step.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 11:21 pm

    Trashing Muster, I’m impressed by the low-stooping. 12 titles in one year…TWELVE. Number One ranking…slam in his pocket…in 1996, had the best two year record on clay since 1968 going, get this 111 WINS FIVE LOSSES. Unheard of until Nadal came on the scene.

    And yet folks here running buses all over him. No worries…Muster was right this time.

    Another record…”Muster has the highest winning percentage of single tournament finals of all players who reached a minimum of 25 finals”

    Pretty sick. But again, if you want to ruin your tires running over him go ahead. It’s odd but that’s your thing.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 11:28 pm

    Yes, Scoop’s emotional intensity theory matches up with Thiem’s problem in being ahead and stopping himself. I don’t think the match was entirely on his racquet but it was close – if you’re up two sets to one, you have your foot on the other player. And if you decide everything is going well, then it’s over.

    I don’t know if Medvedev, if he were up two sets to one on Djokovic, would have closed it out – but given Medvedev has a little more ability to match his intensity to his opponent, he might have.

    Murray was a different guy with Lendl in his court. The way he went after Federer in the Olympics in London and then Djokovic a year later on the same court, that version of Murray was so business like it was frightening.

    I think Kenin was pretty scary in the mental ferocity department this whole week.

    Scoop is right, Thiem could do worse than, given he has all the shots, watch some tape of himself from Vienna if not watch re-runs of Hewitt during Davis Cup, or even Massu during his Olympics run in 2004 (which was an insane comeback against Mardy Fish). He can’t keep checking out when he’s up like that.

  • Jeff · February 2, 2020 at 11:29 pm

    Muster was right about what? That he achieved less in Australia than Thiem did? That he never won a single match at Wimbledon? That is correct, your hero won as many matches at Wimbledon as all of us combined. Funny how nobody brings it up. He was so bad at Wimbledon, losing 12 of 14 sets that he quit trying to improve and ran home to Austria with his tail between his wiener schnitzel never to show up at Wimbledon ever again.

    I am amazed how low the bar is in tennis that a player who quit on the sport’s most prestigious event is considered an ‘all-time great’

  • Jeff · February 2, 2020 at 11:46 pm

    I consider myself a bit of a tennis historian and remember well when Muster became a Grand Slam champion in 95 and didn’t even have the decency to directly tell Wimbledon he wasn’t coming.

    “I have a few days off and I’m playing a tournament in Austria,” Muster said after Paris. “Then I have another two weeks off and will play the second part of the season.”

    In 1996, he let his agent do his dirty work: “When they call him on Monday, they will soon find out whether he’s there or not.”

    That folks is why Muster is considered one of the biggest gutless quitters in tennis history. He will never be considered a great champion for how he disrespected Wimbledon.

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 11:47 pm

    Thiem doesn’t deserve a slam. Del Potro did, which is why he has one! If Djokovic is doping, which isn’t the case as far as I know, has been published, or could be imagined, then of course, Thiem likely deserves a slam (he probably would have beaten Federer or anyone else that would have made the final – maybe not Sandgren!)

  • Andrew Miller · February 2, 2020 at 11:49 pm

    Muster was awful on grass. In fact, the grass today as you know wasn’t the grass of then. It was a miracle Agassi won Wimbledon on the “true grass”. The new strands allow for a higher bounce, which was decades ago and in Muster’s time not part of Wimbledon (at all).

  • catherine · February 3, 2020 at 1:29 am

    Borg won on the ‘old grass’ and he wasn’t a natural grass player – he made himself into one just for Wimbledon.

  • Leif Wellington Haase · February 3, 2020 at 3:56 am

    First, in passing, Kenin’s win reminds me most of Thomas Johansson’s 2002 AO victory on the men’s side. Kenin is likely to have a bigger career than Johansson, and he was a veteran of course, but otherwise the parallels are clear: Johansson was the sixteenth seed, came through a draw which had been cleared of seeded players but not decimated—he had to beat Safin to claim the title along with other seeded but lesser players, and while no one would have put him on a pre-tournament list of favorites he was a strong player (and underrated for his tenacity) and it wasn’t a shock that he won.

    Johansson played under the radar, stayed under the radar, and greatly enjoyed his career-making win and silencing his Swedish critics even if the win didn’t boil the oceans with the media or stir up the tennis world.

    I can’t resist weighing in on the Thomas Muster half-empty or half-full debate. I saw Muster play in person at least half a dozen times and countless times on TV…how one evaluates his career has many parallels with how we rate golfers or baseball players all-time—is it Slams versus regular events, best of era versus steady achiever, versatility versus specialism?

    It is also like baseball debates in that there were a passel of great clay court players roughly in the same era as Muster (Wilander, Courier, Kuerten), just as there are frequently a cluster of outfielders or first basemen or pitchers of the same generation whose stats seem impressive but who weren’t regarded necessarily in the first rank in their heyday, either by peers or pundits.

    For me anyone who wins 44 ATP titles (more than Rosewall, Edberg, or Newcombe), even if mostly on clay, and mainly lower and mid-tier events, belongs high in the pantheon, even if he wasn’t the absolute best of his generation in most years (though getting to #1 doesn’t happen by accident).

    I also think it matters how respected you are by your peers and Muster ranks well in that regard…other than his misadventures on grass (and Muster’s camp would tell you that the disrespect from Wimbledon was mutual because they seeded him well below his ranking). No one ever went into a match with Thomas Muster and expected an easy day at the office—probably including those Challenger opponents he was still playing in his mid-40s.

    You could say the same about David Ferrer—who is the closest equivalent to Muster in more recent years—but Muster got much better results than Ferrer despite his losing record to the very highest-ranked players in Slams, whom he competed well against. (Or, to put it a different way, Muster was ahead of his time: he was made for the age of UTR).

    There is a deeper issue here—the way that tennis observers evaluate the geniuses and the grinders in the history of tennis–and please forgive me as I tie this in passing to Scoop’s prescient remarks on Thiem and the will to win.

    There were many years in the early 1980s, when Ivan Lendl was in the process of losing four straight Grand Slam finals and tennis writers doubted his inner hunger and his will to win. “Choke-o-slovakian” was among the nicer things said about him. Lendl, it was argued, lacked artistry and grace and his power baseline style was an affront to the elegant all-court “pattern play” tennis employed by the champions of the past.

    And it was all true. Lendl was a grinder. He was made, not born. There had always been grinders, of course—think Eddie Dibbs and Harold Solomon and Ion Tiriac and a lot of now-forgotten Europeans– but Lendl was the first to reach the pinnacle of the sport through athleticism and brute power, not innate feel and touch and giftedness (or, at least, what looked like that kind of effortlessness).

    So travel back with me to the men’s French Open final of 1984, McEnroe versus Lendl (viewable in its entirety on YouTube), to my mind the most significant match of the men’s Open era. For the first two sets, like a supernova burning the brightest before it fades, McEnroe, on clay no less, plays the greatest and most inspired version of artistic old-time tennis ever seen—chips, angles, volleys, change of pace, service variety—the gamut.

    And by the third set McEnroe starts to fade just a bit. But the key thing is that Lendl visibly acquires self-belief—in the sense that he becomes less introverted, comes out of his shell, works the crowd— and at the same time he begins fully to trust his power game. If he turns up the power while maintaining consistency off the ground, he can simply hit through McEnroe and all the latter’s brilliant embellishments become, from the point of winning, irrelevant. (It’s a bit like the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark, released around the same time, when Harrison Ford’s antagonist carries out a series of impossibly complicated sword moves, and Ford simply shrugs and shoots him.) Lendl gains passion, gains confidence, and gives his all, literally throwing up before the awards ceremony.

    McEnroe, then and after, grumbled about Lendl’s lack of artistry and grace and the direction the game was headed, but the Rubicon had been crossed. The peak of the tennis world is still divided into grinders and geniuses (think Federer and FAA on the one hand, Courier and Djokovic on the other, and remember when Djokovic was the Clown Prince who couldn’t win the Big One?), but in one respect we are all Lendl’s children. Unless you are Ivo Karlovic, you must be able to play a power baseline game adequately just to get into the vestibule of the club…there are no more Miloslav Mecir’s, at least not in the men’s singles draw.

    So to wrap up— Thiem could certainly use the kind of fervor that Lendl would belatedly acquire, though whether Muster can impart what he once embodied is possibly another matter. And it may not be too late for Thiem to do so given that thirty in tennis is the new twenty-five.

    And we are, I think, prone to underrate the grinders in modern tennis history compared to the geniuses. (Wilander, with seven slams if I recall, is another example of a grinder being underrated despite his stellar record.) Muster fares among the worst in that aesthetic comparison because he was among the first generation of post-Lendl power baseliners, and because his dogged style made Lendl look like Fred Astaire. Yet in another respect Muster’s game was just ahead of its time…a war of attrition and routine perfection staged in long rallies at high velocity…in short, the foundation stone of modern men’s tennis.

  • Krzysztof · February 3, 2020 at 5:34 am

    Not only Murray or Lendl, but also Agassi and Ivanisevic lost their first 3 Grand Slam finals. I have watched Thiem since 2013 and remember that in the first few years he played more Muster-like then now, so in my opinion he knows what this style of play means. Thereby, in the very beginning of cooperation, maybe Thiem expected that Muster would offer something more then the style he knows so well.
    There is one Thiem related anecdote as well: a few years ago I sent message to Thiem on his Twitter or Facebook profile asking if he ever practiced with James Blake and he answered joking that not because James would have killed him with his forehand. Some time later, I noticed that Thiem started to focus more on his forehand, and his more neutral forehand became more and more powerful. I would say that Thiem’s game is a mixture of Blake and Wawrinka, but Dominic resembles more James than Stan. James was always Mr Nice Guy but without this warrior claw.

  • Hartt · February 3, 2020 at 8:14 am

    I am totally bewildered by Thiem getting such a hard time here because he lost to Djokovic. This is DJOKOVIC we are talking about – the guy who has the record number of AO titles! Before the tournament started virtually everyone predicted Novak would win it, despite Rafa and Fed being in the mix.

    Dominic, only recently considered a threat on hard courts, made it to the final when other, more highly regarded players, did not. He took the match to 5 sets. He was a bit fortunate that Novak lost steam for a while, but then Novak got back to his normal form. I was rooting for Dominic but, in all honesty, would have been pleasantly surprised if he had won.

    Scoop, your solution for all players seems to be that they need to “roar like a lion.” Then it is amazing that Federer, hardly a roarer on the court, won 1 Slam, much less 20.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 3, 2020 at 8:42 am

    Hartt, these players all have all the shots and fitness, what it comes down to is intangibles like desire, simply who wants it more. We all see Thiem has what it takes, he had this major in his grasp and let it slip away. I’m not buying your, Oh well it was Djokovic. Thiem could have won that like Delpo won US Open, like Murray won US Open. When it came down to crunch time, Thiem was not the strongest personality on the court, Djokovic was the alpha male. Thiem can refine this easily, and I guarantee you it will help him win his elusive first major. Thiem has the hardest part down – he has the game, the weapons, the athletic, the courage. Just needs to roar like a lion more 🙂 Be the king of the jungle/court. So close.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 3, 2020 at 8:44 am

    Leif, nice comments, agree totally. Muster was always good theater, he was far from the best player with the best athleticism and technique but there were few better fighters. We always knew Muster was going to make it a brawl. Grinders and geniuses, I like that analogy. I did not know Lendl’s personality on court emerged in that McEnroe final at French Open (never saw this match). That is very interesting that you cite it as a factor in Lendl winning his elusive first major. I must find that match on you tube.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 3, 2020 at 8:48 am

    Muster was not the only grass allergic player, Moya, Rios, Kafelnikov, Corretja, Ferrero, Gaudio, Costa also all had problems adapting to grass too.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 3, 2020 at 8:52 am

    Hartt, it seems simple and elementary but roaring and expressing emotional adrenaline are so very important in the clutch moments of big matches. Like I always say, if Hewitt and Serena played with Gasquet and Querrey’s intensity, they would have no majors. Burning obsessive Desire/emotional adrenaline are valuable sources of power. Can’t buy them at

  • Dan Markowitz · February 3, 2020 at 8:58 am


    I think to compare Thiem to Blake is a nice salute to Blake. Blake made two quarters in slams in my misty memory. This is nothing compared to Thiem’s three slam finals already. So to say Thiem was intimidated by Blake’s forehand is a bit unrealistic I think as Blake was a far more up-and-down, error-prone player than Thiem and his backhand was not even in the same conversation as Thiem’s.

  • Hartt · February 3, 2020 at 9:18 am

    Scoop, you did not address my point that Fed does not show tons of emotion on the court, and he has done OK. 🙂

    As far as a comparison of Murray to Thiem, Andy lost his first 4 Slam finals, so it’s not as though he did better than Dominic at this stage of his career.

  • Harold · February 3, 2020 at 9:21 am

    Wilander clay during his real career 82-88( everything after was gravy, mixed w/ Coke)

    82 beats Vilas( at 17 years old)
    83 loses to Noah on the 2nd best day of Noah’ life
    85 beat Lendl
    87 loses to Lendl
    88 beats Leconte ( Andrews young hero in the semis, 6-0 in the fifth)

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 3, 2020 at 9:25 am

    Hartt, Federer is a super emotional player, maybe the most emotional we have seen – as evidenced by the many times we have seen him cry. During the match he bottles it all up but he does vent it out sometimes. We have seen his rage but everyone seems to overlook it, ignore it. With Thiem, it looks like he wants to express his emotional adrenaline but he stifles it. He looks at his box and gives them the fist. If he just let that out more expressively and yelled come on, it just might lift him to a higher level. Emotions bring an athlete to a higher level of performance. It looks like Thiem holds himself back in that department. Federer is so darn good, from such a young age as a pro, he got to the top so fast and didn’t need to roar like a lion. He didn’t change. Maybe if he did start roaring like a lion now, Fed would get the better results 🙂

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 3, 2020 at 9:32 am

    Krzysztof, Thiem has changed over the years, he used to be too aggressive with his offensive shots, now he does play with more patience and grinds. But at the end of the final vs Djokovic he looked like his old self, pulling the trigger too early, backhand winner attempt up the line, three inches wide. Maybe it was the pressure of the moment and he just cracked after losing being in control of the match to suddenly being at the edge of the cliff. Thiem is always very respectful of other players, never says a bad word about any player, deserves to win the ATP sportsmanship award. Very good analogy comparing Thiem as a morph of Blakwrinka.

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 3, 2020 at 9:34 am

    Harold, when Wilander beat Vilas in the French Open final at age 17, he told me for Facing Vilas that he thought he had no chance to win, was hoping to win a few games. Vilas was overconfident, had already set up his victory celebration party. But after he lost, he never showed up. Vilas and Tiriac were arguing during the match. Vilas won the first set easily then fell apart.

  • Andrew Miller · February 3, 2020 at 10:17 am

    Is Leif’s comment the GOAT of comments?

    I had to read it slowly and every word of it, and even then I think I’ll nead to read it a few more times through. What a wonderful way to describe so many eras in a very paragraphs, and to draw attention to under-rated issues such as context, personality, the character of the game itself and its evolution, changing styles and much more. Leif’s comments are like an education in and of themselves.

    Until proven otherwise the expression of the “lion” of a player’s composure during a high stakes match has become vital. I don’t think Borg necessarily showed it, but he absolutely had it – the inner warrior or demon or whatever it is that drives a match in interesting directions.

    Kenin had it and I’d like to believe that, based on what Leif mentioned regarding Johansson, that he had it as well. I remember watching the Safin match, with Safin winning the first set and believing he was well on his way. Johansson didn’t play a very good first set and seemed to be hitting a brick wall. Well, he worked through that!

    When Roddick was asked later, in their Wimbledon semifinal in 2005, what he thought about Johansson, I remember Roddick saying something to the effect that most players always knew Johansson was incredibly tough. Even though Johansson would praise players like Rios (who he beat as well, their last match only), Johansson told Scoop how much he appreciated Rios’ game.

    So maybe that is a good comparison. Johansson was “a player’s player”. Muguruza was very impressed by Kenin, noticing how she was beating players, and then understanding also how she lost to Kenin. And smart enough to say you know what, she knows how to play.

  • Andrew Miller · February 3, 2020 at 10:22 am

    Federer is a huge lion. I don’t see why it’s a big deal to say that Thiem could channel some of this to his benefit, show the crowd he intends to stay in the biggest matches until the final ball.

    The crowd is part of the court. Young players…THE CROWD IS PART OF THE COURT!!!

  • Andrew Miller · February 3, 2020 at 10:27 am

    Ha, Federer! Gotta be kidding me. Federer STILL throws tantrums – not as many as a teenager, but the guy has a desire the size of the largest whale in history.

    Even Federer jokes about how he’s portrayed as this super statesman. He IS a super statesman. But he pokes fun at it a lot, because he knows himself…huge desire, huge lion, huge everything. Has has a lot of composure, and he loses it too – not like Kyrgios, but compared with the image others have of him, he’s just not that guy!!!

  • Scoop Malinowski · February 3, 2020 at 10:33 am

    Agree, Leif’s comments are worthy of an article in Tennis Magazine. Yes I am saying there is too much commercial press release fluff in Tennis magazine, like to see more unique content like Leif’s writing. Thiem could learn a lot by studying Kenin’s fire and how she concentrates it and expresses it. Kenin vents it, Thiem supresses it. Safin vs Johansson was an intriguing final. T Jo talked about it in Facing Marat Safin book and their friendship which is very much intact. Two other players told me that Safin blew that final the night before and that day as he was very busy accomodating his multiple female friends for many hours in his hotel suite. In other words, Safin was spent physically. The players seemed to know it like it was common knowledge in the locker room but I elected to not put it in the book. Maybe it was a subconscious tank? Johansson could play, tough player, fierce player who had knee issues which he overcame. On paper it looks like a bad loss for Safin but Johansson was a much better player than the media or experts gave him credit for, before or after that AO final. Johanssonmania never quite sparked did it?

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