This year, Nadal rounded into ominous form just in time for Roland Garros, by winning the Italian Open.
Was Thiem, seeded No. 4 in Paris and into the second round on Thursday, born in the wrong era?
“No,” he said. “I’m very happy to be there, but it’s different with me, because I’m still going to play when they are all finished. So I will have some years without them, which is going to be amazing for sure. But on the other hand, I love to play against them, and I love to watch them, too. They make you better.”
Thiem, who arrived at our interview in flip flops, seems mild-mannered in person. But he trains as if his life depends on every squat and rally. And he has made some strong decisions this season, none tougher than severing ties with his longtime mentor, Günter Bresnik.
Bresnik, who once coached Boris Becker, has known Thiem since he was 3, when his father, Wolfgang Thiem, began working in Bresnik’s academy in Vienna. Though Wolfgang put the first bricks of his son’s game in place in the very early years, Bresnik built the majority of the structure, taking over when Thiem was 9 and switching him from a two-handed backhand to a one-handed version three years later.
During some of this period, Bresnik also has coached the gifted but less reliable Ernests Gulbis, a Latvian prone to questioning authority.
“Ernests tells me sometimes that Dominic is a fool because he does always what I ask,” Bresnik told me once. “But I say to Ernests, ‘You’re the fool because you pay me, and you don’t use all that’s available.’”