Thiem edges valiant Djokovic in deciding tiebreak to make London final

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US Open champion Dominic Thiem edged out world No 1 Novak Djokovic to reach the final of the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals for the second successive year.

ATP Finals, semi-final

RESULT: THIEM d. Djokovic 7-5, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5)

  • Key info: Thiem comes from 4-0 down in final-set tiebreak to reach final for second straight year
  • You will also learn: Thiem will play in-form and unbeaten Daniil Medvedev for title.
  • Why you should read this story: Djokovic saved five match points before going down after two hours, 53 minutes

Austria’s Dominic Thiem produced a brilliant recovery as he came from 4-0 down in the final-set tiebreak to beat world No 1 Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5) on Saturday after two hours, 53 minutes of enthralling tennis at London’s O2.

Djokovic saved four match points in the second-set tiebreak and another in the deciding tiebreak but Thiem finally got himself over the line to set up a clash with Daniil Medvedev of Russia.

Five-time champion Djokovic almost pulled off a Houdini-like escape when he saved four match points in the second set – one on a Thiem double-fault – but from 4-0 down in the final tiebreak, he won seven of the next eight points to take his place in Sunday’s final.

“It was for sure a mental battle,” Thiem said. “I got so tight in the second-set tiebreak, first of all because to play these legends is always something special and then because playing for a place in the finals at these Nitto ATP Finals is also something very special. I thought that after my first big title in New York (when he won the US Open), I would be a bit more calm but that was a mistake. I was just as nervous as before, I was so much on edge. I’m just incredibly happy to be through.

“I will try everything to win the title. I’m looking forward to it a lot. It’s going to be the last match of the year, a very special, and a very tough year for everyone.”

Serves dominate early

Both men began strongly on serve, testing each other out from the baseline. Thiem had lost his last round-robin match but was back to his sharpest and Djokovic was unable to make any inroads on his return games. At 5-5, though, Djokovic looked strangely rattled, suddenly he was rushing and going to the net more than usual. Thiem sensed his chance and after forcing the first break point of the match, he took his opportunity when Djokovic, at the net for a fourth time in the game, netted a volley. Thiem duly served out the set to lead after 51 minutes.

Thiem had a chance to break in the fifth game of the second set but pulled the trigger a little early on a forehand and found the net. Djokovic showed his frustration, swiping away a ball in annoyance at one stage. But the world No 1 was still there mentally and he held serve, before forcing his first break point of the match at 4-3 up when Thiem missed an inside-out forehand wide.

Novak Djokovic

Djokovic looked pained when his return dropped an inch long and Thiem added insult to injury with an ace and a blistering backhand down the line to hold. Djokovic held to love to move ahead again and at 5-4, 30-30, he was two points from the set but a forehand winner and big first serve kept him level.

Thiem was having to dig deep, though, and after Djokovic held easily, the Serb had two set points at 15-40. But once again, Thiem held firm, saving the first when Djokovic missed a backhand and the second through a big first serve. An epic rally gave him game point and Thiem took it to force a tiebreak.

Djokovic stays alive

The Austrian led 2-0 in the tiebreak only for Djokovic to win four straight points to lead 4-2. But Thiem hit back and at 6-5, he had his first match point. A service winner from Djokovic shut the door, but when Djokovic netted a forehand volley, the US Open champion had a second match point, this time on his own serve. Shockingly, he double-faulted and a missed backhand then gave Djokovic set point only for an errant forehand to let Thiem back in. At 9-8, Thiem had a third match point but couldn’t convert it, and a fourth at 10-9, as Djokovic found the line with a forehand. The world No 1 forced another set point at 11-10 and this time, he grabbed his chance when Thiem netted a backhand down the line.

Another tiebreak decides it

The disappointment of not closing things out could have affected Thiem but he remained mentally stable and both men continued to be almost untouchable on serve. Djokovic came through a deuce game to stay on level terms at 4-4 and Thiem held firm from 30-30 in the following game to force Djokovic to serve to stay in the match.

Djokovic let some frustration out with a roar after missing a forehand return at 5-5, 30-30, and the pressure was back on his shoulders when he pulled a backhand wide to make it 6-5. Serving to stay in the match for a second time, Djokovic held to 15 to force a deciding tiebreak.

Thiem double-faulted to start the tiebreak and Djokovic led 4-2 before an ace and forehand winner halved the deficit for Thiem. As the tension rose, Djokovic netted a slice backhand approach and missed a backhand to level at 4-4, before thumping down an ace to lead for the first time at 5-4. A massive backhand winner made it 6-4 and though Djokovic saved a fifth match point with an ace, Thiem held firm on the next, clinching victory when Djokovic’s forehand drifted long.

Thiem is only the second player to have at least five career wins over Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer – Andy Murray is the other – while the win over the world No 1 was also another milestone in his career.

“Yeah, that is super special to me,” Thiem said. “I mean, some things are super special about today’s victory. It was my 300th tour-level win, which is amazing to me. And then to beat every single (one) of the three best players of all time five times each, it’s something great for me. Super nice statistics.

“But still, as I said after the (round-robin) match against Rafa (he won 7-6, 7-6), every single match against them is a huge privilege. It’s a huge opportunity to learn. Of course if you beat these guys, it gives you a huge boost of confidence.”

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