How Dominic Thiem is reaping the rewards after a reduction in topspin

Dominic Thiem’s 2019 season was one of his best. Big wins, big titles but also big changes to his game. A coaching change from Gunter Bresnik to Nicolas Massu has proved profitable as has the reduction in top-spin in his game on a whole.

Top-spin looks good on the eye but its effectiveness can sometimes be questioned. Too much top-spin can make it difficult to gain control in rallies and take charge of matches but Thiem has changed that in his game.

First serve

The change up on the Ad side when serving has been monumental from the Austrian.

Dominic Thiem won Indian Wells this year and in the Californian Dessert over the course of the tournament hit 46% of his first serves with top-spin. All of these serves were in the wide part of the Ad side.

Also at Indian Wells 39% were flat serves and just 15% were sliced serves.

The change up has been interesting to see…

Since the US Open the change on his first serve placement on the Ad side has been totally different. A high number of serves from Dominic Thiem still go out-wide but he hasn’t hit a top-spin serve since the US Open.

0% topspin, flat 24% and slice 76%.

61% increase in slicing that first serve in. What does that give him? It gives him a better chance of winning rallies as the ball bounces lower than if you hit it with top-spin.

It’s also given him more pace. The top-spin looks good but it isn’t the most effective shot. His average speed on first serve at Indian Wells was 108mph but since the US Open taking top-spin away and slicing more has taken his average to 121mph.

Backhand

Dominic Thiem’s backhand is one of his best shots.

I think a problem in the past for Thiem has been he can sometimes be flashy and lack substance behind it but he has found a more ruthless streak.

Taking some top-spin off has made a big difference.

His average speed of the backhand at Indian Wells was 78mph which was the same at the World Tour Finals.

He took the average spin rate down from 2467 (Indian Wells) to 2073 (Tour Finals) and taking the top-spin rate down almost 400 rotations per minute increased his average backhand winners per match from 3.6 (Indian Wells) to 6 (Tour Finals)

Taking top-spin away has meant the ball from the Thiem backhand after it bounces is much lower compared to Indian Wells making it more difficult for opponents to return.

Shot depth v Djokovic

To have Djokovic on the back foot takes some doing too. The change in the backhand top-spin rate meant he could hit the ball with more depth.

Screenshot 2019-11-27 at 11.22.56

The numbers here are so good to have 40% of shots placed in that final third is fantastic and 24 shots were placed within 20cm of the baseline.

This change up meant that Thiem hit more winners than anyone in London hitting an impressive 107 (29 backhand at 78 forehand) during the tour finals in London. Playing this way however does come with a risk too as Thiem hit more errors than anyone hitting 135 (74 forehand and 61 backhand) during the week in London.

The change up has helped Thiem be more effective in matches and going into 2020 it will be interesting to see him push on with this tactic and potentially winning his first major.

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