On the heels of Dominic Thiem – Or: How to stalk a tennis player

On how I chased Tennis Pro Dominic Thiem to win him as testimonial for a wheelchair tennis tournament.

Deutsch: Tennis Stalker oder: Auf Dominic Thiems Fersen

December 2017 was my very first experience as tournament director within the UNIQLO-Wheelchair-Tennis-Tour. An experience I definitely want to repeat. In this article though I would like to share with you how I tried to win Dominic Thiem as testimonial for that tournament.

On the left kneeling Dominic Thiem, on the right in his wheelchair Nico Langmann.
Nico Langmann together with Dominic Thiem.

But before I start, I would like to thank Nico Langmann for letting me use one of his fotos with Dominic. As top player in the wheelchair tennis tour, Nico belongs to the who-is-who of the Austrian tennis scene. Unlike me, he doesn’t have to hang around in front of fancy hotels and stalk tennis stars.

Let’s kick it off …

During the preparations of the first international wheelchair tennis tournament on Tenerife I came across a news article mentioning that Dominic Thiem was staying on the island to prepare for the upcoming season. I knew right away that I would have to meet him – who could push a tennis tournament better than a Top-10 player of the ATP.

First step: Research

So I decided to comb through the internet to find out Dominic’s whereabouts. Ten minutes later I found a lead on an Austrian newspage. He was staying in the Bahia del Duque, one of the most beautiful hotels of the island. Even better: This place was only about a 20 minutes ride away from where I was staying. So I jumped into the car and stroke off. As soon as I came closer to the hotel I snatched the first available parking space and headed in a mix of nervousness and euphoria towards the hotel …

Where my journey should come to an end.

I couldn’t even get past the hotel’s doorman. This simply could not be true – not further than a 100 meters away Dominic was probably smashing tennis balls without any mercy whatsoever and I just could not get to him. My dream of a famous testimonial had failed.

But as I was not ready to throw in the towel just yet, I started to chat with the very likable doorman. I told him about the situation and why it was so important for me to meet my compatriot Dominic Thiem. Seemingly also I was likable to that man in his unspeakable ugly uniform. He instantly grabbed the phone in his little cubbyhole and called the front desk.
He asked for me if it was possible to visit Mr. Thiem on the court as I was a huge fan. REJECTION. My new friends next question: If it was possile to call Mr. Thiem and ask for his approval of a short visit. REJECTION. Time to pull my last ace from the sleeve – the disability bonus – bulletproof. From one minute to the other I needed to pee urgently. I knew as soon as I was on the plot no one could stop me anymore. Excited of this idea, the doorman went for the phone once more and depicted my urological dilemma to the receptionist. REJECTION. Unbelieveable. In no case you can accuse the hotel of not protecting it’s guests adequately.

My personal mole

Fortuna was against me. My disappointment must have been fairly detectable because all of a sudden the doorman looked at me in a conspiratorial way and said:

Listen, I should not be telling you this but I do want to help you to eventually get in touch with ‚Señor Tim‘. I can’t promise anything but usually he leaves the hotel between one and one-thirty to have lunch somewhere outside.

I perked up my ears excitedly … that would be within the next half hour!

Up to now three of them used to leave the site in a red car. Yesterday though his training partner departed in that same car. So I actually don’t know if ‚Señor Tim‘ will leave the hotel today as well. After all it’s his last day today. Why don’t you go for your car and park in front of the gateway? I’ll give you a sign as soon as he passes by.

In that moment I kind of fell in love with the doorman. I accepted, thanked him a thousand times and set out for my car. After I arrived I quickly peed into an empty bottle (I really needed to tinkle) and immediatly drove to the hotel where I reavealed myself to the doorman.
I strategicly parked in a way that I wouldn’t block anyone while still maintaining a good overview via the rearview mirror. I positioned the mirror and began to wait. After the first five minutes boredom slowly started to crawl up – time for the cellphone. Fifteen minutes later I did not know what to do with that thing anymore. Another ten minutes later – it was nearly 2 o’clock – the thought that Dominic would not come anymore started to spread in my brain. I decided that at 2 o’clock sharp I’d abandon the mission for good.

Einfahrt des Bahia del Duque. Rechts sieht man den Schriftzug des Hotels, links mein Auto halb auf dem Gehsteig.
The entrance of the hotel. On the left my car on the look-out.

Grey station wagon

In exactly that moment I saw a grey station wagon driving up the hotel’s gateway. At the same time also the doorman started to wave with both his hands above the head – very subtle. While I started the motor and waved goodbye to my new friend, Dominic already passed by. So I set off and sticked hard on his heels – well, more or less, because first I had to wait for the car behind Dominic to pass.

Lucky enough we were driving on a four-lane road – two-lanes in each direction, divided by a small green area with palm trees – so I could easily overtake the car between us and close the gap on the grey station wagon. Like this we went on for another couple hundred meters. Just as I was about to relax a little, Dominic all of a sudden went for a u-turn in a gap between the lanes. What the f***! Did he want to shake me off? Why else would he go for such a hara-kiri manouver? And I? Should I really surrender that easily? Never!

Shaken, not stirred.

I checked if the coast was clear, copied the manouver, overtook an articulated bus and back I was on his tail. Like James Bond. Not really, because I was caught off guard again straight away, when the grey station wagon suddenly came to a halt on the left lane. If I now stopped behind him, I’d definitely blow my cover once and for all. So I very slowly passed by on the right while always keeping an eye on the station wagon. As soon as I left Dominic behind me, he turned left once again interpreting traffic regulations in the freest possible way. My jaw dropped. Now what? Luckily my home advantage brought me back on track right away as I new that the road he had entered was a dead end. So I rushed to the next roundabout and entered the road as well.

Pursuit on foot 

2 minutes later the grey station wagon was found again – empty and parked on the side of the road. I quickly parked the car, threw out my chair and began to follow Dominics trace on foot. He had to be somewhere around the seafront I imagined. The only problem: Stairs – 30 or 40 of them. Weigh to many for a solo attempt. Two helpfull pedestrians kindly solved that problem for me.
On the seafront I then started to comb trough bar after bar … and got lucky. Already in the third place I saw Dominic sitting in a remote corner seemingly lost in a serious conversation with his counterpart.

Timing

Both of them had a rather serious face. Probably not the best moment to interrupt. I decided to wait. Without leaving my target persons out of sight, I went to the bar and ordered a cup of coffee. My plan was easy: Wait until the facial expressions lighten up and strike.
It did not take long for my moment to come – a couple of minutes later I detected a hint of a smile on Dominics face. ACCESS. I put the cup down, pulled myself together and headed to the table.

Married?

„Mr. Thiem?“ I asked as if I wouldn’t know. Dominic turned to me and nodded. As I streched my hand toward him and introduced myself, he politely stood up, greeted me and introduced his company. Mutual hand-shakes. Who the second person was? No idea – I was weigh to nervous to really listen.
In order not to led tense silence arise, I started to jabber right away. It did not take longer than a minute to introduce myself once more, explain Dominic why I was harassing him and how I ‚came across‘ him. Retrospectivly I couldn’t tell if I was breathing in the meantime.
Dominic seemed amused about me chasing him. He laughed and said something like: „Wow, impressive. Should my wife ever betray me, I’d most definitely set you on the case.“

Afterwards we chatted another couple of minutes about Tenerife, (wheelchair-) tennis and the planned tournament. But as I did not want to overstay my welcome, I said goodbye pretty soon and set off – with the number of Günter Bresnik in my pocket, his coach and manager. A complete success!

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