Over the first 10 days of 2017, we're examining the Top 10 players on the ATP and WTA tours—how will they fare during the new season? All of the previews can be found here.
After the first half of 2016, if you had asked most tennis fans who the next great male player was going to be, the consensus would have been Dominic Thiem. The 22-year-old Austrian won four tournaments on three surfaces, recorded wins over Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, cracked the Top 10 and reached his first Grand Slam semifinal, at Roland Garros. Thiem had the shots—the high-kicking serve, the wicked one-handed backhand, the killer topspin forehand—to play with anyone, and he appeared to be gaining confidence from one week to the next.
Six months later, though, the consensus about Thiem’s future wasn’t so clear. During the season’s second half, he failed to win a tournament, went out early at Wimbledon, retired with an injury at the U.S. Open and staggered down the homestretch. Instead of improving from week to week, Thiem looked a little more exhausted with each event. By the end of the year, the question surrounding him was no longer, “Is he the next great tennis player?” It was, “Is he playing too much tennis?” Thiem entered 28 tournaments in 2016, the most of anyone in the Top 25. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, by contrast, played just 17 each.
Has Thiem learned his lesson? Will money, rather than majors, always be his focus, or will he take a page out of the Big Four’s book and cut back on his schedule? Based on his own words, the signs aren’t great.
“Maybe I’ll play a little less,” Thiem said about his plans for 2017. “...Maybe not.”
At a deeper level, though, the question may be how he sees himself as a player. Is he the type—like Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray—who couldn’t live with himself if he wasn’t doing everything he could to win majors? Or is he more of a low-key version of Gael Monfils, a spectacular shot-maker who’s happy making a good living on tour? For now, there can be no doubt about Thiem’s potential; talent-wise, he’s a French Open champion waiting to happen. But if the hunger isn’t there, it won’t matter how big his shots are. We’ll know more about his future, and his willingness to adjust his goals, at this time next year.
Year-end ranking prediction: No. 10