Waiting for Them To Get Thiem
If you follow tennis, you may know Dominic Thiem.
Currently at No. 8 in the Emirates ATP World Tour rankings, the 23-year-old Austrian has a way of making announcers sound uninformed about him.
An intelligent, moody player, he usually can be found at the baseline, discussing a point with himself. Occasionally, he looks over at his box, more often not. You know why people talk to themselves, don’t you? Because they’re the best conversationalists they know. Thiem is a good conversationalist and wastes little energy on fist pumping theatrics. He’s there to win more than to entertain. So he talks his way through it.
“Oh. Thiem did it,” one announcer for Sky Sports says, as Thiem’s one-handed backhand gets the attention of Stan Wawrinka, currently the world’s No. 3. It’s the quarterfinals at Larry Ellison’s BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells last night (March 16).
“He can really motor around out there,” the second announcer says, seemingly taken aback.
It’s as if these commentators don’t know or don’t believe that Thiem has been as high as No. 7 in the rankings. He’s won more than $5.7 million in prize money so far. He has eight titles after spending most of 2016 on the road in a blitz of tournaments. This year, he’s won the Rio tournament on clay already. Last year: Stuttgart, Nice, Acapulco, Buenos Aires. In 2015: Gstaad, Umag, Nice.
“Combination thoroughbred and plow horse,” one of the announcers says, still apparently scratching his head as the artful Austrian keeps up with the Swiss.
“Pressure is building,” one announcer intones ominously. “Incredible how much harder those shots become to make.”
In fairness to announcers who call these matches, part of their job is to generate suspense, sex it up. It’s too bad that at this point in Thiem’s career, this often means casting him as a lucky upstart.
Thiem (pronounced “Team”) is the son of professional tennis coaches Wolfgang and Karin, who graciously handed his youthful development over to master coach Günter Bresnik. They could tell they needed top-level guidance for a son this talented. That bit of parental honesty has helped produce a formidably promising player who works punishingly long hours on the court, switches fluently from clay to hard court or grass, and faithfully reports to fans on his matches, both in German and in English.
Match after match, whether Thiem wins or loses, he’s articulate, respectful of other players, at once temperamental and yet in control of his temper.
“Man, this guy has everything it takes to be a champion,” an announcer said during his Rio-winning match. But he’s being made to pay his dues, proving that he’s a persistent performer, a standout in a field crammed with gifted competitors.
And that’s my provocation for you today. How hard do you find it is for others to see you as the writer you are? How fashionable is it for us all to wax skeptical?
Authors aren’t the only ones.
Wawrinka now is questioning the chair on a call. The Austrian watches. Thiem has pulled ahead of Wawrinka in the second set, 4-2. Is anybody in the booth ready to concede that the challenger has come up with unexpected grace and capability? Maybe begrudgingly: “Stunning. When Thiem’s in full flow on that backhand…” Yeah.