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Wednesday, 22 June 2016 18:10 PM BST
Mountain man Thiem hits new heights
Austrian No.8 at home on the hills as well as the court READ MORE

Conquering the mountains of Austria is helping the talented Dominic Thiem scale new heights in tennis.

The 22-year-old has been a force in 2016, clinching four titles on the way to an ATP Tour-leading 47 match wins and breaking into the top ten thanks to reaching the semi-finals at Roland Garros.

He will be No.8 seed at Wimbledon and, however he performs on the grass, no-one will question his work ethic or his fitness. Coach Gunter Bresnik, Boris Becker's former coach, has made sure of that.

“This is not done on a regular basis, but if it is possible I prefer to train outdoors,” Bresnik revealed. “He does a little bit of mountain biking but the main activity is always running. In Austria, to climb up the mountains, to go hiking, gives a mental boost to a player to get to the top.

"Similar to a tournament, it can take six, seven, eight hours in all, you stand on top but then in a couple of minutes you start to walk back but it gives you great satisfaction.

"The five weeks pre-season are just the tip of the iceberg, fifty per cent is left in the ocean. He is the only player I have ever worked with, in nearly 15 years, who has never asked me, ‘how long?’ or ‘when is practice going to finish?’.

"If you think about it, that tells you a lot about the player. With all the other players, top 20 players maybe, they ask to stop practice or to do something else after an hour. For me, why he is so successful is that he has an unlimited love and interest for the game, a huge desire to improve.

...he has an unlimited love and interest for the game, a huge desire to improve

- Gunter Bresnik

"He’s the kind of guy who wakes up and thinks how much better can I be when I go to bed tonight. He’s not just thinking and dreaming about it, he also has the character and stamina to take the hard practices, day in and day out.” 

Bresnik is eager for Thiem to vary his fitness schedule, away from a gym, out in nature. Up in the Austrian forests there are tales of Thiem jogging in the dark, weight lifting with logs and swimming through rivers.

The results are there for all to see. In a season that continues to blossom for Thiem he shocked himself by playing “dream” tennis on the grass at the Mercedes Cup to become Stuttgart champion.

“I was going to Stuttgart without any pressure," Thiem explained. "I made myself enough pressure in the clay court season during the French Open because finally I wanted to make a very good result on the big stage.

“I think it was the happiest moment in my tennis life so far. I really went to Stuttgart without any expectations and didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. The victory in the semi-finals against Federer I wouldn’t have thought of in my wildest dreams, and then the very difficult final over two days (versus Kohlschreiber). I rarely had as much fun during the matches as I had that week.”

Fatigue caught up with Thiem in Halle last week, having played relentlessly since February, but he still made the semi-finals.

Bresnik worked with former Wimbledon champion Becker for 15 years so he knows what a highly-motivated, hungry player can achieve although he now wants to dampen expectations.

That will be difficult when someone of the stature of Federer is talking in glowing terms of Thiem.

“I think it’s unbelievable to see how he is backing it up. He’s definitely playing with confidence right now. I saw especially in Stuttgart, things were not good for him many, many times and he stayed calm,” said Federer, who had match points facing Thiem at the Mercedes Cup.

“He’s got a certain game that he can always go back to, that’s what we spoke about. He has a nice serve, big baseline game, he’s trying to adjust the right way on the grass on well and the return which is not an easy thing for him to do, it’s not natural, anyway it seems like it.

"I’m very impressed by his progress even though I’m not surprised because he did come to Zurich last year and practised with me. So, for me it’s more of a confirmation really.”

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Bresnik is eager to quell expectations on Thiem, insisting: "The best of the season is over for him, I don’t know how far he can recharge his energy. There are a lot of question marks. He said himself, he won a grass court tournament and he doesn’t know how. There are a lot of players at Wimbledon, who will not be seeded but are better grass court players than him.”

What about Thiem’s own SW19 aspirations?

"My expectations [for Wimbledon] have risen but on grass it's not like I'll be in the tournament as long as I was Paris. My main goal is simply to go further than last year. So, I certainly wouldn't be unhappy with a third round."