Aug 19, 2021

Tennis Superstar Dominic Thiem’s 7 Tips on How to Handle Pressure and Setbacks

Doubt, loss, pressure, injury – Dominic Thiem, one of the highest ranked tennis players in the world, shares how he manages these and other challenges.
by Shira Richmaneditor

As a top-ranked player who has been a professional athlete for almost a decade, Dominic Thiem has mastered many tools for success. He shared some of them with us when he stopped by adidas’ headquarters in Herzogenaurach, Germany on a Friday afternoon. Whether you are on a path to a career as a professional tennis player, or simply bringing your athlete’s heart to all that you do, Dominic’s seven tips will guide you well.

1.Keep your eye on the… positive

Despite having experienced meteoric success from an early age, Dominic Thiem has wrestled, at times, with doubt. One of the keys to his achievements seems to be his ability to train his focus on the positive steps forward, even when they are more modest than hoped.

Keeping your eye on the ball keeps distractions in the margins where they belong.Keeping your eye on the ball keeps distractions in the margins where they belong.

“Whenever my doubts become bigger, I always look to the small moments of success to keep me going. The doubts have always been there, but I look at the small wins, to help me regain my confidence. It’s always important to make even small positive steps.”

"It's always important to make even small positive steps."

Dominic Thiemprofessional tennis player

2.Focus forward

In competitive professions, dealing with losing is a necessary skill – one that comes with time and experience. One tricky part is determining how best to interact with the most challenging moments.

Dominic Thiem explains, “I think the balance between reflecting on a loss and moving forward comes with experience. At the beginning of my career, every loss felt like the end of the world to me. At first, I would stay in my room and I didn’t want to play. It took a while until I regained my confidenceand was motivated again.

“But after being on tour for six or seven years, it’s way easier.

"Now I know there will be tough losses. There will be close losses. They will hurt for a short time, but I know that there is going to be another chance."

Dominic Thiemprofessional tennis player

“It makes more sense to just leave the loss behind. Move on, go to practice, and try again next week.

The trick is to balance analysis with moving on.The trick is to balance analysis with moving on.

“If you think too much about a loss, and if you take it as the end of the world, you’re going to take so much more time to recover, and that’s not healthy for you, not for your team, and also not for the next tournament. So, slowly, I have learned to digest losses faster.

“With experience, you are able to analyze the losses better for yourself, and you know exactly what to work on and what to do better next time. All of this experience also helps you to be calmer in general. When I know that I gave my best, but I lost, I just move on and try to win the next time.”

3.Stay in the game

Another inevitable setback for athletes is wear and tear on the body. While recovering from a recent injury to his right wrist, Dominic Thiem has not stopped playing tennis. Instead, he is now practicing with his racket in his non-dominant hand.

“I can simulate the movements quite well with my left hand. This way I can stay in shape, practice footwork, and not lose the feeling. I think it’s pretty good for the brain, as well.”

4.Put luck into perspective

Being rated as one of the best players in the world does not happen without plenty of talent, hard work, and determination, but luck is another factor in play. Dominic Thiem is grateful not to have suffered many injuries so far:

"On the whole, I have been pretty lucky with injuries. I twisted my ankle three years ago, which forced me to take four weeks off, and I’m currently out with a wrist injury."

Dominic Thiemprofessional tennis player

Slowing down and healing is an essential part of the game.Slowing down and healing is an essential part of the game.

The recent wrist injury was somewhat of a fluke and, therefore, not worth worrying too much about. “It was just bad luck and a combination of bad things happening, like hitting too late and still trying to do a lot with the wrist. It’s a pretty common injury in tennis. For some people, it happens because of overuse, and for some people, like me, just because of bad luck or one bad shot.”

5.Face the fire

The high-pressure moments are packed with energy and heat: when cast in a positive light, these may even be the moments we live for.

“I have enjoyed close or tough situations in matches from a very early age. Close matches, tie breaks, or breakpoints – I like those situations. That’s when the fire is on. I really love it. I don’t really think about anything in those moments.”

6.Have a plan

What is Dominic Thiem’s secret to maintaining focus under pressure? “I know exactly what I’ll do in the important moments. This is actually super important because you won’t get nervous. If the situation is really close and you don’t know what to do next, you will be nervous. That’s why I know before a match what I’m going to do. It doesn’t really matter who I’m playing against.”

"I know exactly what I'll do in the important moments. This is actually super important because you won't get nervous."

Dominic Thiemprofessional tennis player

Being ready means being prepared.Being ready means being prepared.

In case you are hoping to know what his planned moves are, you’ll have to wait for several years. “I have my routines and my serves, but I’ll only share the details with you after my career,” he saysid with a smile.

7.Keep dreaming

When asked what other careers he may want to pursue in addition to being a tennis superstar, Dominic said that he is still fully engaged in tennis. “I hope that I still have five to seven years at least.” That doesn’t keep him from dreaming about what might be next, though.

“It would be very interesting to do something which is completely different from sport. For one thing, I’m really into the environment and animal protection. It would be cool to go somewhere where the world is still wild to experience wildlife there. Unfortunately, there are not too many places left – Antarctica or Patagonia. Galapagos is a nice option too. To go with experts who can really explain everything there.”

Dreams may seem larger than life until we bring them to life.Dreams may seem larger than life until we bring them to life.

He would like to learn more about science and has heard that diving is one way to do so. “I have heard from many environmentalists that, while diving underwater allows you to experience the problems, you also get to see what is so amazing about wildlife. That’s one thing I want to do in my next career.”