Dominic Thiem ended Novak Djokovic’s bid for a record-breaking sixth ATP Final title, beating the highest-ranked player 7-5, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5) in the semi-finals on Saturday in winning seven of the last eight. points.
Thiem could have closed things over an hour earlier, but wasted four match points in the second set tiebreaker, including one through a double fault.
Then the US Open champion trailed 4-0 in the final tiebreaker before turning things around. When it ended with Djokovic doing a long forehand, Thiem dropped his racket and covered his face with his hands.
“It was, for sure, a mental battle,” Thiem said.
No.3-ranked Thiem’s 300th career victory put him in the season-ending tournament final for the second year in a row; he was Stefanos Tsitsipas finalist in 2019.
No.2 Rafael Nadal was due to face No.4 Daniil Medvedev in Saturday’s second semi-final. The final is Sunday. None of the last three men on the pitch have won the tournament, meaning there will be a sixth different champion in the past six years, the longest of its kind since 1974-79.
This is the first time since 2004 – when Roger Federer, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin did so – that the top four players in the standings occupied all four semi-final places for the ATP Finals.
This year’s squad is quite a quartet: they have combined to win the last 10 Grand Slam men’s singles titles and the last nine Masters 1000 trophies.
Djokovic, already assured of finishing the No.1 year for a record sixth time, was trying to tie Federer’s mark of six ATP Finals trophies. A title would also have made Djokovic, at 33, the oldest champion in the history of the tournament; Federer was 30 years old in 2011.
In Saturday’s rematch of the February Australian Open final, in which Djokovic beat Thiem in five sets, there were plenty of long grassroots rallies on the indoor hard court – where things were calm. because spectators were banned due to the coronavirus pandemic – and little chance of a break for either player.
Thiem faced three breaking points and saved them all, a feat against supreme returner Djokovic. And while Thiem managed to produce just a pair of break points, he used one to take a 6-5 lead in the first set.
In the second, Thiem’s ace gave him a 6-5 lead in the tiebreaker, one point from the win.
But Djokovic saved that first chance with a 127 mph serve winner. Thiem’s next opportunity to win came at 7-6, but he double-faulted. The third was at 9-8, when he gave a wide forehand. And then, at 10-9, Djokovic erased the No.4 with a forehand that landed right on a line.
It started a three-point run from Djokovic to steal the set and extend the game. He needed four set points in all to do this, but he succeeded when Thiem scored a setback.
Thereafter, Thiem admitted that he was “tense and nervous” in this section. He regrouped, however, and slipped into the clutch an hour later.
Thiem is now only the second man with at least five wins each against Djokovic (career 5-7), Nadal (6-9) and Federer (5-2). Andy Murray is the other.