Thiem continues fine form to stop Berrettini run

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Dominic Thiem used all of his all-court experience to withstand the hammer blows of Matteo Berrettini and win his third match of the Ultimate Tennis Championships.

The Austrian’s 11-14, 17-11, 18-13, 13-12 victory means that he now moves fourth in the standings despite entering the tournament late, as Berrettini drops to second.

This battle of two Top Ten players on the ATP Tour was one to savour, the players locked at 2-2 in their head-to-head but of course never having played one another in this exciting new format.

Adding extra spice to this encounter was the form of the two players, both having won their last two matches in convincing style. One of the most important factors in the match would be how the pair utilised their ‘UTS Cards’ that give the player an advantage in each ten-minute quarter if used correctly.

Every player is allowed to choose two of four cards per match (decided beforehand) and play each of them any time during a set, or quarter. And it was a difference of tactics, The Hammer going for the popular Steal Serve and Winnerx3 to Thiem’s Winnerx3 and -1 Serve.

And, tied at 7-7 with the clock ticking into four minutes remaining, neither player had showed their hand, meaning a late rush for cards. It was Thiem who was first to play at the request of father Wolfgang, but it was The Hammer who won both points against serve before deploying his own, edging two points clear despite neither hitting the winner.

As often happens, the pressure of making best use of cards can often lead to errors, and it was Berrettini who made the fewer to take out the opener 14-11.

“I was counting the points and I think at the end it went well. I’m happy but I think I can play better, but he can play better to,” said Berrettini.

Thiem ends Berrettini sets run with perfect end to quarter

And play better Berrettini did, racing to an early four-point lead to pile the pressure on Thiem. But the Austrian is not World No.3 for nothing and fought his way back into the quarter to level with successive forehand winners.

The level of tennis rising to that of players befitting their Top Ten status, Thiem pulled out back-to-back x3 winners, an ace followed by an exquisite lob stunning his opponent, who seemed secure up to then. Until that point, Berrettini had won eight straight quarters following victories over Benoit Paire and Richard Gasquet.

“I was really pissed at 2-8 and seriously I didn’t believe any more in this quarter, I was focusing already to maybe turn a 0-2 around but the six points where I played the card helped a lot, said Thiem. In the back of my head I knew that in this kind of format things can turn around very quickly and hit an ace and a really good lob, so that was amazing.”

Thiem edges high-quality encounter that could have gone either way

Suddenly, just as it had looked as if The Hammer would establish a healthy lead, it was Thiem who was now the enforcer. Another Winners x3 with a textbook serve and volley seemingly put the quarter out of The Hammer’s reach, but three successive aces, two on a Winners x3 dragged the Italian back from the brink.

It was as high a standard of ten-minute tennis one is likely to see, but it was Thiem who came out on top to establish a 2-1 lead.

“It was almost perfect but then he made the six points with his winners cards and the door closed all of a sudden again, so you can never be sure in this game,” said Thiem, after holding off the Berrettini fightback. “It’s not a nice feeling because you’re up 12-3 and super comfortable and then suddenly it’s only three points. It’s ten minutes of big tension because even at the end you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

And with a quarter of UTS still to play, there was every chance that this high-quality encounter would still go the distance, especially when Berrettini Hammered home another Winners x3 ace to pull ahead.

Back came Thiem, but there was just time for one more point on the Berrettini serve, and yet another Hammer blow ace meant that the quarter would go to a deciding point, and it was fitting that a sumptuous backhand pass would seal the deal to win his third match of UTS.

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