12:02 PM GMT November 21, 2020
Dominic Thiem became the first player in four years to reach back-to-back championship matches at the Nitto ATP Finals on Saturday, as he earned a milestone 7-5, 6-7(10), 7-6(5) victory against World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
The 2019 runner-up failed to convert four match points in a dramatic second-set tie-break, but held his nerve to rally in a final-set tie-break against Djokovic at The O2 for the second straight year. Thiem’s victory was his 300th at tour-level and his fifth against a World No. 1. The last player to reach consecutive finals at the season finale was Djokovic (2012-’16).
"It was for sure a mental battle. I got so tight in the second-set tie-break because to play these legends is always going to be something special," said Thiem in an on-court interview. "Playing for the final here at the Nitto ATP Finals is also something very special and I thought that 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 as nervous as before. It was so much on the edge that match, like every single match here. The best players in the world are facing off. So I’m just incredibly happy to be through and just [will] try to get ready for tomorrow."
Each set came down to just a few points and it was Thiem who claimed the biggest points in the decider. Thiem increased his aggression to win six consecutive points from 0/4 down in the final-set tie-break and converted his sixth match point with a powerful forehand approach shot. Thiem is only the second player in 2020 to win a tie-break against the World No. 1. Djokovic entered the third-set tie-break with a 15-1 tie-break record this season.
"After I fought so hard to get to the final in the group stage and as well now today. Of course I will try everything to win the title," said Thiem. "Anyway now we’re going to have again a first-time winner, no matter what happens in the second semi-final. Both of them will fight 100 per cent today and as well tomorrow, but I’m looking forward a lot. It’s going to be the last match of a very special, of a very tough year for everybody, I guess. We’re going to try to put [on] a great show for everybody that is watching."
Thiem has now won five of his seven most recent ATP Head2Head matches against Djokovic, which includes two wins at this event. The Austrian also earned a final-set tie-break victory against Djokovic in the round-robin stage last year.
With his fifth win against Djokovic (5-7), Thiem joins Andy Murray as the only players to beat each member of the Big Three on five or more occasions. Thiem also owns six wins against Rafael Nadal (6-9) and has triumphed five times against Roger Federer (5-2). Thiem has excelled in matches against the Big Three since the start of the 2019 ATP Tour season (9-3).
Dominic Thiem ATP Head2Head Records Against Big Three
|Opponent||Before 2019||Since 2019|
In a tight first set, neither player was able to earn a break point in their opening five return games. As Djokovic attempted to shorten points by coming to the net, Thiem made the crucial move at 5-5. The World No. 3 consistently fired backhands down the line to Djokovic’s forehand volley and extracted errors to serve for the set. Thiem converted his first set point with an ace down the T.
Thiem was put under pressure on serve in the second set, but he found big serves to save break point at 3-4 and two set points at 5-6, 15/40. In the tie-break, Thiem held four match points but he could not convert as errors began to creep into his game. Djokovic served with power and fired a forehand onto the line to escape danger on two match points and levelled the match when Thiem drove a backhand into the net.
There were no signs of disappointment from Thiem in the decider. The 27-year-old continued to serve at a high level to stay ahead in the score and reach a tie-break. Thiem committed errors early in the final-set tie-break, but he charged back from 0/4 with consistent aggression to win six of the final seven points. Last year, Thiem recovered from 1/4 to beat Djokovic in another final-set tie-break.
Too Close To Call: Djokovic & Thiem's Past Five Matches
|2020||Nitto ATP Finals||SF||Dominic Thiem||7-5, 6-7(10), 7-6(5)|
|2020||Australian Open||F||Novak Djokovic||6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4|
|2019||Nitto ATP Finals||RR||Dominic Thiem||6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(5)|
|2019||Roland Garros||SF||Dominic Thiem||6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5|
|2019||Madrid||SF||Novak Djokovic||7-6(2), 7-6(4)|
Djokovic was attempting to reach his eighth championship match at the season finale and move one win away from matching Federer’s record haul of six Nitto ATP Finals crowns. The six-time year-end World No. 1 ends the year with a 41-5 record and four titles.
”The difference was that when you hit full power and everything goes in, it just goes in. When you hit full power, sometimes it goes out. So simple. He did everything right from 0/4 [in the third-set tie-break],” said Djokovic. “I have to put my hats down and say, congratulations. I actually didn't play bad any point after 4/0. I thought [in] every point, I was in it. I did hit the ball, I was not pushing it, but he just smashed it and he just played great.”
Did You Know?
For only the second time in the tournament’s 50-year history, the event will crown its sixth different champion in as many years on Sunday. Thiem, Medvedev or Nadal will follow in the footsteps of Djokovic (2015), Murray (2016), Dimitrov (2017), Zverev (2018) and Tsitsipas (2019). The only previous time this occurred was from 1974-1979.