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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, November 21, 2020

 
Dominic Thiem

Dominic Thiem scored his 300th career win in style out-dueling Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-7(10), 7-6(5) storming into his second straight ATP Finals championship match.

Photo credit: ATP Tour Facebook

Escape acts have empowered and tortured Dominic Thiem.

Today, they hurled Thiem to emotional extremes.

More: 2020 Put Stefanos Tsitsipas In a Dark Place

Novak Djokovic fought off four match points in the second-set tiebreak and seized a 4-0 lead in the third-set breaker.

Staring down shattering defeat, Thiem picked up the pieces transforming devastation into determination.

Surging through seven of the final eight points, Thiem out-dueled Djokovic in a 7-5, 6-7(10), 7-6(5) thrill ride storming into his second straight ATP Finals championship match at London’s O2 Arena.




A match that featured a single break popped with more twists and turns than a Charles Dickens novel leaving Thiem facing the best of times, the worst of times and the most resilient of times.

The third-seeded Thiem double-faulted away a match point in the second-set tiebreaker, saw Djokovic fire a forehand off the line to save a fourth match point and was down 0-4 in the final-set tiebreaker to the world No. 1 who carried an imposing 15-1 tiebreaker record in 2020 into the extra session.

None of that fazed Thiem, who avenged his Australian Open final loss to Djokovic subduing the Serbian for the second straight year in London following his 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(5) round-robin win last year.

It all added up to Thiem’s 300th career victory, his fifth triumph over a world No. 1, fifth win over Djokovic and a trip to his second straight London final.

"It was for sure a mental battle," Thiem said. "I got so tight in the second-set tieb reak first of all because to play these legends is always gona be something special playing for the finals here at the Nitto ATP Finals is always something special.

"Well I thought after my first big title in New York maybe I’m gonna be a little bit more calm but that was a mistake, I guess. I was just as tight and 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 try to get ready for tomorrow."

Three points from the final, Djokovic saw Thiem full-throttle his game speeding to a place the Serbian could not reach.

"I mean, what he did from 0-4 in the third-set tiebreaker was just unreal. I don't think I played bad," Djokovic said. "Actually, I made both of my first serves, actually all of my first serves. 4-1, 4-2, 4-5, you know, 4-6, I made all first serves.

"He just crushed the ball. Everything went in from both corners, and he played couple of very short slices, you know, angles. I mean, what can you do? I mean, I was in a driver's position at 4-Love. I thought, you know, I was very close to win it. Yeah, I mean, he just took it away from me. But he deserved it, because he just went for it and everything worked."

The US Open champion will face either second-ranked Rafael Nadal or fourth-seeded Daniil Medvedev in tomorrow’s final.

Thiem showed a steely spine, a knack for the attack at the right time and a red-hot finish denying Djokovic’s quest to match Roger Federer’s record with his sixth ATP Finals championship.

The victory ensures we will see a first-time champion for the fourth straight year following Grigor Dimitrov (2017), Alexander Zverev (2018) and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who edged Thiem in a third-set tiebreaker in the 2019 title match.

“After I fought so hard to get to the final in this group stage now today I will try everything to win the title,” Thiem said. “But I think anyway now we’re gonna have another first-time winner so both of them will fight 100 percent today as well as tomorrow.




“I’m looking forward to it a lot. It’s gonna be the last match of a very special, of a very tough year for everybody. So we’re gonna try to put a great shot for everybody who is watching.”

This was a magnificent match with sudden plot shifts, tight shots under pressure and a brilliant breaker from Thiem to finally close.

For the first time since 2004, the world's top four ranked men made the semifinals of the prestigious year-end event.

The US Open champion showed his all-court skills cracking serve for the first time to seize a 6-5 lead. Thiem won eight of the last 11 points to take a one-set lead on the strength of a single service break.

The server dictated to start the second set. The Grand Slam champions combined for four love holds. Djokovic had a look to break through in the 12th game, but Thiem withstood a deuce test holding to force a frenetic tie breaker.

Both men had chances in the break, which saw the returner win five straight points at one point.




On Thiem’s fourth match point, Djokovic showed shot-making guts. Stepping inside the line, Djokovic dragged a forehand down the line pasting the sideline to equalize the breaker at 8-all.

Two points later Thiem, perhaps ruing opportunity lost, sent a backhand into net ending the 66-minute second set and sending it into a third set.

Deadlocked at 4-all, 15-all, Thiem swooped in for a sweeping forehand swing volley. Thiem was 15 for 15 on net trips until Djokovic spun a crosscourt pass. The Austrian answered with an ace and a rousing backhand pass down the line that Djokovic couldn’t control. That rocket pass put Thiem up 5-4 and shifted the pressure squarely back on Djokovic’s shoulders.

Pressure spiked to start the decisive tiebreaker as Thiem double-faulted to open and Djokovic followed with strong serving pulling ahead 4-0.

An ace down the T put Thiem on the board then the top seed showed signs of nerve.

A 19-shot rally ended with Djokovic netting a slice backhand approach. When Djokovic jerked his two-handed backhand wide, Thiem was level at 4-all.

Slashing his 12th ace down the T, Thiem went up 5-4 prompting coach Nicolas Massu to leap from his seat applauding.

Setting up the Serbian with a slice backhand, Thiem torched a blazing backhand crosscourt that left Djokovic lunging at air giving the Austrian two more match points a the two hour, 53-minute mark.

"The difference was that when you hit full power and everything goes in, it just goes in," Djokovic said. "When you hit full power, sometimes it goes out. So simple.

"He, just as I said, he did everything right from 0-4. I mean, I have to put my hats down and say, Congratulations."

A little more than an hour after Djokovic erased a fourth match point, he saved the fifth match point with an ace out wide.




This time, Thiem would not be denied. The US Open champion hammered a forehand down the line closing a physically-punishing and emotionally-draining two hour, 56-minute victory.

It was a monumental win for Thiem, who joins Andy Murray as the second player in history with at least five career wins over each of the Big 3 Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer.

The third-ranked Thiem played like a man with an eye on the top spot.


 

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