For Dominic Thiem, the ATP's ironman, the rest is mystery

No one enjoys playing tennis more than Austria's Dominic Thiem, or at least, no one plays more tennis than Thiem. In his short time on the ATP Tour, the world No. 7 has racked up air miles, quickly establishing himself as the ironman of the men's game.

So it must have come as something of a shock, then, for the 24-year-old to find himself sitting on the sofa last month, taking it easy while the world's best players were battling it out in Miami.

If it was by necessity rather than by design, as he recovered from a nasty-looking ankle injury, it may just have been exactly what he needed.

In the past four years, Thiem has played 27, 27, 30 and 24 tournaments respectively, plus one Davis Cup outing each year. He needed a rest, so instead of arriving at the Monte Carlo already feeling the effects of the Tour in his legs, Thiem turned up on the Cote d'Azur feeling fresh and ready to go.

"It was very nice, to be honest," said Thiem, who saved a match point to beat Russia's Andrey Rublev 5-7, 7-5, 7-5 in the second round of the Masters 1000 event on Tuesday. "I was at home for three, four weeks, which didn't happen for a long time. I did a lot of things that there is no time for when there is a normal schedule. The injury was not that bad, so it was not a bad time at all."

Thiem played 76 matches in 2017, a mark only beaten by David Goffin (83), Rafael Nadal (78) and Sascha Zverev (77). In 2016, his total of 82 matches was beaten only by the 87 of Andy Murray.

The ankle he injured in Indian Wells turned out to be just bruising, rather than ligament damage. Though he spent plenty of time on the practice court since, could it be that less is more?

"Actually I had a better preparation to come into the clay-court season than in previous years, because it was only one week between Miami and Monte Carlo and I think I have more hours in my body on clay before Monte Carlo than I did in the past years," he said.

With Nadal still going strong at the top of the rankings and seemingly fit again after returning from injury at the Davis Cup last weekend, winning the French Open may still be beyond the other 127 players who will make it into the main draw at the French Open next month.

But with doubts about when or if Novak Djokovic will regain top form, and with Murray and Stan Wawrinka still out with injury, the door is open for someone to come out of the pack this spring. Thiem, remember, was the only man to beat Nadal on clay last year, in Rome, and having reached the semi-finals in Paris, he could be the man.

"I think if I play well, it can be a great clay-court season," he said. "As long as Rafa is there and he's playing that well, it's always going to be tough. There's only little opportunities for everybody.

"But besides him I think the field is very open for everybody. He is on the top, but beyond that there are good opportunities for a bunch of players."

With the Masters 1000 events to come in Madrid and Rome, it's not as if he will be able to take it easy before attacking the title at Roland Garros, but that mini-break can only do him good in the long run.