Tennis - Subdued Thiem could learn from Sock's fun approach
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) - Dominic Thiem might want to take a leaf out of Jack Sock's book when he sits down to ponder a disappointing end to his year.
While Sock played with a smile and on his face and some sparkle on his racket strings to reach this weekend's last four of the ATP Finals, Thiem has lacked inspiration.
It came to a head on Friday when, after winning the first three games against Belgium's David Goffin, he lost 10 of the next 12 to bow out of the season-ender on a dismal note.
His one round-robin victory at the 02 this week came against alternate Pablo Carreno Busta - only his third ATP Tour victory since squandering a two-set lead to lose to Juan Martin del Potro in the U.S. Open fourth round.
"It doesn't have anything to do with the amount of tournaments I've played," the subdued Austrian, who has played 27 tournaments his season, told reporters.
"Of course, the U.S. Open was very painful. I have to admit it. Today was like the last month, I guess.
"It's been a tough period and maybe (the Del Potro) loss has still been on my mind."
A stale-looking Thiem looked as though he was carrying the world on his shoulders as he committed 27 unforced errors against Goffin. He was a shadow of the player who reached the French Open and Rome semi-finals and was runner-up in Madrid.
Kansas-based Sock, on the other hand, is finishing the season like a tornado and puts his late-season charge down to the simple idea of having fun on court rather than putting himself under intense pressure.
It worked a treat for the first American qualifier for the ATP Finals since 2011 with wins over Marin Cilic and German trailblazer Alexander Zverev.
Sock has been a breath of fresh air, treating the crowds to trick shots as well as his cannonball forehand and his semi-final against fellow first-time qualifier Grigor Dimitrov on Saturday promises to be a feast of spectacular tennis.
While Thiem's dip has come at the end of the year, Sock's came in the middle - prompting a re-think.
"You're going to lose some matches, you're going to have some bad weeks, it's part of sport. I think I let that get me down a lot through the year," Sock said.
"Finally, I talked to my coach at home. We kind of said, 'screw it' take that pressure off, go have fun on court.
"Once I did that, I think my better tennis is showing."
Sock was 24th in the Race to London rankings going in to the last regular week of he season and had a round of golf booked at Augusta National this week, only to win the Paris Masters and qualify for the season-ender.
"Obviously, when you sneak into the eighth spot the week before, three days before the event starts, it definitely takes some nerves away," the 25-year-old said.
"I'm going to have fun, play big, play free. No one expected me to be here in the first place. There's no reason to start putting pressure on myself now."
(Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Ed Osmond)