Dominic Thiem thought that winning his first Grand Slam title at the US Open would calm him down in the most tense moments of the biggest games. In his ATP Finals showdown with No. 1 Novak Djokovic, he realized how wrong that idea was.
Still, after blowing four match points in Saturday’s semi-final because he was “tense and nervous” during a second-set tiebreaker, Thiem pulled himself together. Ultimately, he scored seven of the last eight points of the game to reach the final of the season-ending championship.
Ranking No. 3 Thiem ended Djokovic’s bid for a record-tying sixth ATP Finals title, coming through 7-5, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5) later losing 4-0 in the final tiebreaker.
“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. “
When he finished with Djokovic sailing a long forehand, Thiem dropped his racket and covered his face with his hands.
Thiem could have shut things down more than an hour earlier. But in the previous tiebreaker, Thiem acknowledged that “mentally he was not that strong.”
His 300th career victory placed him in the final of the season-ending tournament for the second year in a row; was the runner-up to Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2019.
No. 2 Rafael Nadal was scheduled to face No. 4 Daniil Medvedev in the second semifinal. None of the last three men on the field have won the tournament, which means there will be a sixth different champion in the last six years, the longest stretch since 1974-79.
It is the first time since 2004 that the top four players in the rankings occupied the four semi-final spots of the ATP Finals. This year’s group is quite a foursome – they’ve won the last 10 Grand Slam titles and the last nine Masters 1000 trophies.
Djokovic, already confident of finishing the year at number one for the sixth time, was trying to match Roger Federer’s mark of six ATP Finals trophies.
In Saturday’s rematch of the February Australian Open final, in which Djokovic beat Thiem in five sets, there were plenty of long baseline exchanges on the indoor hard court, where things were quiet because spectators were banned. due to the coronavirus pandemic, and few break opportunities for any player.
Thiem faced three break points and saved them all, quite an achievement against supreme returner Djokovic. And while Thiem managed to produce only a couple of break points, he used one of them to take a 6-5 lead in the first set.
In the second, 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 chance to win came at 7-6, but he double-faulted.
“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 and prolong the match.
Thiem regrouped, however, to become the second man with at least five wins each against Djokovic’s Big Three (5-7 career record), Federer (5-2) and Nadal (6-9). . Andy Murray is the other.
“That is very special to me,” Thiem said. “Every game against them is a great privilege. It is a great opportunity to learn. If you beat these guys, it gives you a huge confidence boost. “