Dominic Thiem is known for playing a heavy schedule, but the 27-year-old Austrian is allowing himself to take a break these days.
After missing Monte Carlo, Thiem withdrew from this week's ATP event in Belgrade with a knee problem, though reassures the setback is not severe.
"There are small problems, now it's the left knee," he told der Standard. "During the first lockdown, I had the same thing in my right knee. It didn't matter, I didn't have to cancel any tournaments because there weren't any. It's a congenital pressure in the knees that comes up every now and then."
Thiem has played just four events this season and has not competed since falling to Lloyd Harris in the first round of Dubai. The 17-time titlist doesn't want to go on court until he's fully fit.
"That happened this year at the Australian Open and especially in Doha and Dubai. The opponents are way too strong, the level is too high and you go down in the first or second round," he said. "If I had gone to Belgrade with knee pain, I would have done that again. And then you're in a downward spiral. That I must avoid."
Still, he hasn't completely switched off from the game and plans to return to competition in a couple of weeks. "No, the French Open is the top goal still," said Thiem. "But there's a large training gap. I haven't had any matches against top players for a long time. I hope it happens in Madrid and Rome. I want to be fully competitive in Paris."
But Thiem also acknowledged that he needed to recover mentally as much as physically following his first Grand Slam victory at the US Open. Though he played for the rest of the season, getting motivated to go back on the road again wasn't easy.
"For 15 years, I chased the big goal and didn't look left or right," said Thiem, who won against Alexander Zverev in the final of a fan-less US Open. "I achieved it under unusual circumstances, but that's not that important to me. In a way, some things fell by the wayside... There was only tennis. I want to change that a little."
Thiem's start to the season was also unusual, especially his fourth-round exit at the Australian Open.
"I'm playing one of my most memorable matches against local hero [Nick] Kyrgios," he said. "The atmosphere in Melbourne was incredible, even though people weren't behind me. And then there was a lockdown. I came into the locker room at night, sweaty, and it was being evacuated. The next day against [Grigor] Dimitrov was in the daytime, extremely hot, and empty [in the stands]. I couldn't adjust to it."
Players also have had safety protocols and restrictions at most events on tour.
"It's difficult to play every week in these circumstances," said Thiem. "There are guys who can take it, for whom the bubble is probably even an advantage, for example, [Dan] Evans or [Alexander] Bublik. They have problems focusing on sport in normal times."
The No. 4-ranked player isn't among them, though, saying, ''In Dubai, we were locked up, even through around it was normal. You left the hotel at 9 p.m. and entered an empty stadium. That's not so great."