Dominic Thiem heads to ATP Finals suffering a crisis of confidence

Dominic Thiem is currently world No. 6. CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images

PARIS -- Dominic Thiem may be the world No. 6 and marked out for a great future but he is heading to the ATP Finals in London in a slump.

The 24-year-old arrived in France hoping to rebuild his self-belief after a series of poor performances and early exits; instead he left the last Masters event of the year full of self-criticism having suffered another big blow.

"I cannot really expect more than that at the moment," Thiem told ESPN after he lost 6-4, 6-4 to Fernando Verdasco in his second match of the tournament. "I'm not playing well enough to win two matches in a row in a tournament like this."

It was another erratic showing from the Austrian, in which he threw away early and late chances, and his serve and shot selection let him down.

Any scraps of reassurance he had drawn from his nervous first-match win against lucky loser and world No. 62 Peter Gojowczyk -- and Thiem had said he was buoyed by that small victory -- were wiped out.

Thiem is known as one of the hardest workers on the Tour, and he said he will work on the "many things" he isn't doing well at the moment before the ATP Finals, which begin on Nov. 12.

But it is surely going to take something more than that to give him the mental fortitude to make an impact at the O2 Arena. He looks like a player who needs a break from the game to recharge and relieve the stress he puts on himself.

Before arriving in Paris, the Austrian's recent run included only one win through four tournaments in Chengdu, Tokyo, Shanghai and Vienna -- the latter one of his favourite competitions. He has established himself in the world top 10 and reached a career-high ranking in 2017, but a painful autumn has tainted his season's achievements.

The problems started at Flushing Meadows when he had worked hard to get himself into the last-16 and raced to a 2-0 lead against Juan Martin del Potro: he threw away a golden chance to reach the quarterfinals, failing to convert two match points in a five-set loss that left him wondering what might have been.

"The defeat to Del Potro didn't help -- I would have loved to have won that match," Thiem said. "Afterwards I have always been struggling. They have been quicker surfaces, which are tougher conditions for me. I've been trying to get better there but it didn't really work this year.

"There is another big tournament remaining and next year there is another chance, I guess. I have a new career high but if I would have started the year like it has ended, I would say it's sh ..."

While Thiem is looking to fortify his confidence he should rewind to the clay court swing and relive the pride he took from making two finals and two semis, including one at Roland Garros; running through the way he made the last-16 in the other three Grand Slams wouldn't hurt, either.

His prospects long-term are still promising and perhaps lightening up in his self-analysis would help, but coach Gunter Bresnik knows they have their work cut out short-term.

"He's not the most confident player because he lost so many matches since Wimbledon after being match point up," Bresnik told ESPN. "Against [Diego] Schwarzman [in Montreal], [Kevin] Anderson [in Washington D.C.], Del Potro, [Viktor] Troicki [in Shanghai]. Even last week in Vienna against [Richard] Gasquet.

"In my opinion, he hasn't found his style of tennis yet. He has a very good serve, a strong, aggressive baseline game; he has all options: he's not a bad volleyer, has a good slice, moves really well but right now he's not returning great. That puts pressure on his serve.

"Because of the many options he has, he changes too much. He sometimes plays a little too much according to the score rather than the right way to play.

"Don't give a point away at 40-love. I don't know for sure, but if somebody looked at the statistics, when he's been 40-love up and finishes with the next point is a very low percentage. He always fools around, even in important matches.

"I don't think he does it consciously, it is just a little lack of concentration. But it's not to do with age. Concentration comes if you work on it, and he needs to."