Inspired by Massu, Thiem wants to feel Olympic emotions for himself

Inspired by Massu, Thiem wants to feel Olympic emotions for himself

Had the 2020 season played out as scheduled, Thiem would have missed the Tokyo Games. Now, after reassessing, the Austrian has his eyes on July 2021, declaring, "A medal is my dream!"

Nicolas Massu's impact on Dominic Thiem has been evident on the court from the day the two began working together in early 2019. From more confidence behind his ball-striking and becoming the alpha on surfaces away from his comfort zone to quashing nerves in high-stakes situations, the two have produced numerous results together that speak for themselves.

Through this successful partnership, Massu's influence on his student cuts deeper. Take the Olympic Games. 

Had this year's season progressed as planned, Thiem would have missed Tokyo 2020 due to a conflicting contract with his home tournament in Kitzbuhel—an arrangement he was previously fine with after citing Paris 2024 as the opportunity he would focus on. In the previous quadrennium, Thiem skipped the Rio Games, believing in 2016 that “other sports are more important at the Olympics and that's OK.” His schedule favored staying in North America to play the competing ATP event in Los Cabos, a tournament he ultimately withdrew from as a result of a hip injury he aggravated in Toronto.

Now, it seems Massu’s favorable stance on the Olympics, aided by his personal experience of striking gold twice for Chile in Athens, has rubbed off on the Austrian—enough to persuade Thiem to rethink his own perspective of the event’s significance after Tokyo was postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. During his pre-tournament press conference at the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals, Thiem told reporters, “To be honest, I changed my mind. It would be a dream to participate in the Olympics,” a 180-degree turn that he credited in part to appreciating the passion displayed by Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro in the 2016 Rio final.

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In a post published on his website Wednesday—with the title, A medal is my dream!—Thiem expanded on his point of view shifting. Understandably, Massu was instrumental in the 2020 US Open champion’s reassessment of the Games.

“I have been thinking about it for a longer period of time, and next year it eventually fits into my tournament schedule. And I am looking forward to it to compete for a medal,” Thiem wrote. “My coach Nicolas Massu won two gold medals in Athens in 2004, he told me about the incredibly wonderful emotions. I want to feel these kind of emotions myself. For an athlete, the atmosphere at the Olympics must be unique, I want to soak it all up.”

Like many global events, timelines and political motives will drive Tokyo’s fate next summer. Less than two weeks ago, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach traveled by charter flight to meet with Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga and departed with a positive outlook about staging the Games if COVID-19 vaccines are successfully deployed.

"In order to protect the Japanese people and out of respect for the Japanese people, the IOC will undertake great effort so that as many [people] as possible–Olympic participants and visitors will arrive here [with a] vaccine if by then a vaccine is available,'' Bach said.

"This makes us all very confident that we can have spectators in the Olympics stadium next year and that spectators will enjoy a safe environment."

Bach clarified that the IOC is not pushing for a mandatory vaccination policy, though hopes “to convince as many foreign participants as possible to accept a vaccine” if the organization can secure shots for every qualifying athlete and attending official. As of Wednesday, Japan was approaching 136,000 reported cases. Tokyo, accounting for just over 38,000 of those infections, has experienced multiple spikes throughout November, peaking at 539 last Saturday. Even so, Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike has maintained the Olympics, scheduled to run July 23 through August 8, will proceed.

“As the host city, I’m determined to achieve the games, whatever it takes,” the Associated Press reported Koike stating.

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Thiem, coming off his second successive runner-up finish at the ATP's season finale in London, also shared he would “relax” for 10 days at home—and then see if the uncertainly around the 2021 season launch in Australia has cleared up. Tennis Australia and the Victorian government are working quickly to determine a solution, one that is reportedly leaning towards pushing the Australian Open back by a week or two.

“No practice sessions, no appointments, and I will only turn on my cell phone for a short while,” Thiem said. “I also want to recharge the battery completely as I have big goals for 2021, even though nobody knows exactly, when we will be allowed to get started in Australia.”

At this year’s Australian Open, Thiem took out Rafael Nadal and Alexander Zverev to reach his first major final away from Roland Garros, and led Novak Djokovic two sets to one before the Serbian rallied to win in five for his eighth triumph at Melbourne Park. Thiem would later lift his first major in his fourth Slam final at Flushing Meadows in September, coming out on the winning side of a five-setter over Zverev.