Instead of No. 1 Novak Djokovic against No. 2 Rafael Nadal for the ATP Finals trophy, it will be No. 3 Dominic Thiem against No. 4 Daniil Medvedev.
Nadal had won 71 straight games by taking the first set, and served for victory in the semifinals on Saturday by leading 5-4 in the second set. But Medvedev broke in love there and came back to win 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3, claiming the last four games.
“It’s great that we managed to beat two of the best players in the history of sport,” Medvedev said. “It’s great for tennis.”
Thiem squandered four match points in his semi-final against Djokovic because he was “tense and nervous” during the second-set tiebreaker. Thiem bounced back, however, eventually achieving seven of the final eight points of the match after losing 4-0 in the last tiebreaker, winning 7-5, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5).
“What he went 0-4 in the third set tiebreaker was just unreal,” said Djokovic, a 17-time Grand Slam champion. “I don’t think he played badly. … He just crushed the ball and it all went in. “
Thiem ended Djokovic’s bid for a record sixth ATP Finals trophy, while Medvedev prevented Nadal from pursuing the most important title that the 20-time major league champion has not won.
Instead of a 57 meeting between Djokovic and Nadal, Thiem and Medvedev will meet for the fifth time. Thiem leads 3-1, including a straight sets victory in the US Open semifinals in September en route to the 27-year-old Austrian’s first Grand Slam championship.
“I sure can cause him some trouble,” Medvedev said.
He did that to Nadal too.
Nadal appeared to be headed for the final when he scored four straight games in the second set for a chance to serve for the match. Surprisingly he stumbled.
“I played a bad game. That’s it, ”said Nadal, who deflected a question about whether he had any physical problems during the match.
Once he was back in the game, Medvedev took advantage, dominating the next tiebreaker with the help of a lob winner, a forehand winner who concluded a 26-stroke exchange and a jumping backhand that drew a forehand with a net. .
Nadal couldn’t help it, losing the last three games of the match while serving and volleying more than normal, cutting his backhand more than usual and making forehand errors more than usual.
Medvedev was 0-3 against Nadal, including a five-set loss in the 2019 US Open final, and the 24-year-old Russian’s excellent serve, deft backhand and a willingness to hold out on long baseline plays provided the advance of Saturday.
A year ago, Medvedev went 0-3 in the free-for-all game at the ATP Finals, while Thiem was runner-up to Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Whoever wins Sunday on the indoor hard court, where things will be quiet because spectators are banned due to the coronavirus pandemic, will be the sixth different champion of the tournament in the last six years, the longest stretch since 1974-79.
It was the first time since 2004 that the top four players in the rankings occupied the four semi-final spots for the ATP Finals. Djokovic, already confident of finishing the year at No. 1 for the sixth time to tie a record, was trying to match Roger Federer’s mark of six ATP Finals trophies.
In the second set against Djokovic, Thiem’s ace put him ahead 6-5 in the tiebreaker, one point away from victory.
But Djokovic saved that opening opportunity with a winning serve of 127 mph. Thiem’s next opportunity came at 7-6; he committed a double fault.
“It was so tight all over my body,” Thiem said.
The third was at 9-8, when he pushed a wide forehand down. At 10-9, Djokovic erased No. 4 with a forehand that landed right on a line.
That started a three-point streak for Djokovic to steal the set.
But Thiem regrouped and his 300th career win on the tour made him the second man to have at least five wins apiece against Djokovic’s Big Three (5-7 career mark), Federer (5-2). ) and Nadal (6-9). Andy Murray is the other.
“If you beat these guys,” Thiem said, “it gives you a huge confidence boost.”
Note: Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares secured the year-end No. 1 team rankings in men’s doubles when the other contenders, Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, lost in Saturday’s semifinals to Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.