If there is one trait that has characterised Nicolas Massu during his life, it is the ability to adapt. In fact, one of the reasons Dominic Thiem included him in his team as a coach, in February 2019, was so that, among other things, he could help him transition to other surfaces. For this reason, the multitude of changes to the sport since the resumption of the ATP Tour has not been a huge inconvenience to the Chilean.
“Life is strange right now, everything is strange”, Massu told ATPTour.com. “Being in a 23,000-seater stadium with nobody in it, the Tour having been suspended due to a pandemic, being in a bubble without being able to leave the club or the hotel, that the three biggest players in history [Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic] aren’t in the quarter-finals of the US Open, that we have non-stop tournaments from here until the end of the year.
Everything is strange. But you can’t spend your time analysing all the changes. It is what it is. The priority is still competing and, hopefully, winning.”
The Chilean’s first experience after the return of the ATP Tour was also unusual. His pupil lost his opener at the Western & Southern Open, ensuring he would have a whole week without competing until the start of the US Open, at the same venue. In addition, the bubble of the complex and hotel established new dynamics that Massu would have to get used to very quickly. How? By knuckling down.
“There are restrictions everywhere. But it is what it is,” said Massu. “The important thing is playing. There will be time to discover more about the tournament’s city later. While this is happening, I’m watching a lot of matches, I take a look back at Dominic’s to see what he can improve on. I spend time on my own, thinking, analysing the next match, which in the end is the most important thing about tennis.
“Also, I spend a lot of time in the gym, at least two hours a day. I do aerobics, weights. Five times a week I try to do that, and it kills two hours a day. Sometimes it’s me who knocks up with Dominic, I also exercise with him on court… That really motivates me: keeping myself fit.”
He is also motivated by keeping an eye on the Chilean players. Such is the case of Cristian Garín, whom he was cheering on from the stands in the bubble in New York.
“I love that there are Chileans in big tournaments and that there is friendship there. I’m the Davis Cup captain and I try to support them,” said Massu. “[Cristian] was playing really well when [the ATP Tour] was suspended. Now it’s a question of him playing in more tournaments to earn confidence and to get comfortable after so long without competing.”
What has not changed for Massu, compared to life before the pandemic, is that his pupil Dominic Thiem continues to live up to his seeding at Grand Slam tournaments. Since being under the tutelage of Massu, Thiem has played five majors. During that time, the Austrian has reached finals at Roland Garros in 2019 (l. to Nadal) and this year’s Australian Open (l. to Djokovic).
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At the 2020 US Open, he has maintained his streak of reaching the later rounds and handling the pressure. One day after becoming the highest remaining seed in the draw, following Novak Djokovic’s fourth-round exit, the World No. 3 beat #NextGenATP Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime in three sets.
“I was very happy with the way Dominic played. I’ll watch that match again several times to analyse it and see what he did well and what he can continue to improve. But I think wins like this have to give him confidence for what is to come,” said Massu, who also spoke of unexpectedly seeing his 27-year-old pupil become the second-oldest player in the quarter-finals of the US Open.
“Everything’s different now. Strange. But it will be a question of getting used to it. Now there are young players who have a lot of potential. If they’re in the Top 30 at that age it’s because they’re playing well. They’re going to lead the future change of generations. Tennis is going through a phase in which this kind of player is reaching the very top,” said Massu, who is looking no further than Thiem’s quarter-final match against Alex de Minaur.
“We’re just focusing on what comes next. Nothing more,” said Massu. “Whether or not the best in history are in these rounds is out of my hands. What I can do is concern myself with the next match. And in my head there is nothing other than that next match. It will require the utmost concentration”.