Paris (AFP) – Dominic Thiem is the iron man of men’s tennis who is never happier than when his racquet is doing the talking.
That is just as well as the 24-year-old Austrian, who faces Rafael Nadal for the French Open title on Sunday, is not a man for wearing his heart on his sleeve.
When he held his first press conference after his opening Roland Garros win, the official transcript stretched to a modest 64 words in English in response to just one bland question.
When 10-time French Open champion Nadal walked into the conference room 24 hours later, he spoke close to a 1,000 words in English.
Such is Thiem’s low profile that there were gasps when he criticised having to undergo mandatory national service in the Austrian military.
“It’s a pain in the arse,” complained Thiem in a rare headline-grabbing outburst.
GQ magazine once carried a profile of the 6ft 1in (1.85m) Austrian with the headline: “Dominic Thiem is the future of tennis — so why doesn’t anybody care about him?”
However, his private demeanour should not be confused with crippling modesty either on or off the court.
He has a season-leading 35 wins having played 13 tournaments in 2018. By comparison, Nadal is in his seventh.
Such is Thiem’s dedication to his job that he even played — and won — a small-change claycourt tournament in Lyon the week before Roland Garros while his rivals were already in Paris.
“There are always things to learn, you don’t lose energy,” Thiem once explained in defence of his gruelling schedule.
“To play a full consistent schedule is my aim — I was struggling with this before.”
Numerous stories have grown up around Thiem — the most popular are those relating to his habit of once training by carrying tree trunks on his back or swimming in rivers in the deep of winter.
He denounces these tales as myths.
What is true is that he has been trained by Gunther Bresnik — the former mentor of Boris Becker — since childhood.
He once dated a former contestant from the 2010 Miss Austria beauty pageant but now is in a romance with leading French player Kristina Mladenovic.
Thiem is bidding to become the first Austrian man to win a Grand Slam since Thomas Muster triumphed in Paris in 1995.
“He sent a message to my physio because they work together… we see each other every year in Vienna, and that’s it,” explained Thiem, the polar opposite of the combative Muster.
“He’s a role model for every Austrian tennis player. He’s the biggest in our sport in Austria.”
Thiem will be playing in his first Grand Slam final on Sunday compared to Nadal’s 24th.
“I have a plan,” he said without elaborating.
That “plan” has worked for him in the past — he is the only man to have defeated Nadal on clay in the last two years.
But he is not getting too ahead of himself.
“I’m facing Rafa, I’m not the one who has the pressure.”