Dominic Thiem recovered from squandering 4 match points in a dramatic second-set tiebreak to beat Novak Djokovic in 3 pulsating sets in the Final Four at the ATP Finals on Saturday, November 21.
The Austrian third seed’s 7-5, 6-7 (10/12), 7-6 (7/5) win ended Djokovic’s hopes of equaling Roger Federer’s record of 6 titles at the elite eight-man event at London’s O2 Arena.
The US Open champion will face in Sunday’s final Daniil Medvedev, the Russian who sent Rafael Nadal packing after a gruelling slugfest, 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.
The Spanish world No. 2, who has never won the elite event in his illustrious career, faltered when serving for the match
Thiem, the 2019 runner-up who forced the only break of the match in the first set, faced an uphill battle psychologically after his missed chances in the second-set tiebreak.
But he was quickly back in the groove and rallied from 4-0 down in the final-set tiebreak, winning 6 successive points to earn two match points, taking the second of those.
“It was for sure a mental battle,” said Thiem, who now chases the second-biggest title of his career.
“I got so tight in the second-set tiebreak, first of all because to play these legends is always going to be something special.
“And then playing for a final here at the ATP Finals is also something very special. I thought after my first big title in New York, maybe I’m going to be a little bit more calm but that was a mistake I guess.
“I was just as tight and nervous as before and it was so much on the edge… I’m incredibly happy to be through.”
Thiem took time to settle at the start of the contest, hitting a number of unforced errors, but found his rhythm and his single-handed backhand became an dangerous weapon as the match wore on.
The third seed produced a searing forehand winner to set up break point in the 11th game of the first set and Djokovic netted with a volley.
The 27-year-old closed out the set impressively, lashing a backhand winner down the line before producing an ace.
Djokovic, 33, earned his first break point of the match in the eighth game of the second set and had two more in the 12th game but each time Thiem snuffed out the danger.
In a nailbiting tiebreak, Thiem squandered 4 match points and eventually dumped a backhand into the net as the 17-time Grand Slam champion took it 12-10 to level the match.
Both players settled quickly at the start of the decider, with Djokovic looking far more focused than he had in the latter stages of the second set.
There were no break points in the third set and both players braced for another tiebreak.
Thiem looked down and out at 4-0 down in the shootout but rallied impressively, converting his sixth match point with a powerful forehand approach shot.
The Austrian is only the second player in 2020 to win a tiebreak against Djokovic, who entered the third-set decider with a 15-1 tie-break record this season.
Djokovic, who has already tied Pete Sampras’s record mark of 6 year-end No. 1 finishes, has not won the season-ending championships since 2015.
“What he did from 0-4 in the third-set tiebreaker was just unreal,” said the world No. 1. “I mean, I don’t think I played bad.”
“He just crushed the ball,” he added. “Everything went in from both corners, and he played a couple of very short slices, you know, angles. Yeah, I mean, what can you do?”
Thiem has lifted himself into the top echelon of the men’s game, reaching the Australian Open final this year, where he lost to Djokovic, before his triumph at Flushing Meadows in September.
Medvedev – who has won nine matches in a row – put Nadal’s serve under intense pressure in the early stages of their evening match at the empty O2 Arena.
But the 6-foot-6 Medvedev was unable to make his chances count and a drop in his level allowed the Spaniard to break to love to lead 5-3 before he served out for the set.
Medvedev immediately found his focus at the start of the second set, winning his first service game to love before Nadal, a two-time finalist at the event, double-faulted to give the Russian a 2-0 lead.
Just when it seemed as though the Russian giant was cruising, Nadal, 34, broke back twice to take total control and stepped up to serve for the match.
But in another astonishing twist, the 20-time Grand Slam champion played a sloppy game, allowing the Russian back into the match, and Medvedev won the eventual tiebreak.
The deciding set hinged on the seventh game – the Russian produced an overhead winner on his third break point, breaking again to beat Nadal for the first time.
The Spaniard entered the match on a 71-match winning streak after taking the opening set, but 24-year-old snapped that run with a gritty mental and physical performance over 2 hours and 36 minutes.
“I felt really strange until 5-4 for him in the second set, when he was serving for the match,” said the fourth seed, who lost all 3 of his matches on his debut at the season-ending tournament last year.
“It felt like I was doing great shots but there was no link in my game and that was why I was losing. He was better in the important moments. I couldn’t return in the important moments, I couldn’t make a good shot in the important moments.
“I decided to change some small things. Just being closer, going for it a little bit more. I felt like I had the chances to win before (in) some games, a set maybe, but it didn’t work, so I had to change and it worked really well. I am really happy about it.” – Rappler.com
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