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By Richard Pagliaro | Sunday, November 16, 2020

 
Dominic Thiem

Dominic Thiem defeated defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3 in an ATP Finals rematch of the 2019 championship match.

Photo credit: Erste Bank Open Facebook

Returning to the scene of his final fall, Dominic Thiem staged first-round elevation.

US Open champion Thiem defeated defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3 in an ATP Finals rematch of the 2019 championship match.

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Down 1-4 in the first-set tiebreaker, Thiem won six of the next seven points to take a one-set lead. After Tsitsipas made the first break of the match stand up to take the second set, Thiem raced out to a 3-0 lead in the decider and never looked back in a match that featured just two service breaks.

"He dealt with my serve better and took time, stepped back," Tsitsipas said. "Applied more pressure to me on some of the second serves I had early in the third set, and I think that paid off for him."




The third-seeded Austrian improved to 23-7 on the season, including a 20-1 mark when winning the opening set. Thiem takes the lead in Group London of the round-robin event. World No. 2 Rafael Nadal is set to face ATP Finals debutant Andrey Rublev later today.

This Group London round-robin opener was a rematch of the dazzling 2019 ATP Finals title match last November. Striking with daring, Tsitsipas out-dueled Thiem 6-7 (6), 6-2, 7-6 (4) capturing the biggest title of his career in an electrifying ATP Finals title match that had fans packed in London's O2 Arena chanting for both finalists at the climax.




"I mean, compared to last year, I think the level was higher last year," Thiem said. "We were both in great shape last year in the finals, wanting the title 100 percent. The atmosphere last year was insane at the finals.

"Today was a little bit different. There was a lot over the serve from both of us, only two breaks in the whole match. I think the conditions are pretty fast here, so I'm super happy with my win.

"I mean, every win against a Top-10 player here at the Finals is something special, and as well every win against Stefanos is something special because he's such a great player and established, won so many big titles already."
Spiking Coronavirus cases prompted British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lock down England until December 2nd. That means no fans in the 20,000-seat O2 Arena and no lines crew on court—Hawk-Eye live makes all line calls in the tournament.

None of that mattered much to the players, who came out firing rockets on serve.

Three games into this opener, Thiem earned the first break point and had a good look at a backhand pass down the line but caught the top of the tape. Tsitsipas staved off the stress test with successive forehand volleys holding for 2-1.

Thiem tested the Tsitsipas serve again with two break points in the seventh game. Tsitsipas met the challenge moving forward smacking a forehand swing volley and a smash to navigate a tough hold for 4-3.

The US Open champion refined his rhythm on serve streaking through nine straight points stamping his second successive love hold to level after 10 games.

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The defending champion gained the first mini-break when Thiem missed a forehand and spun successive aces to take a 4-1 tiebreaker lead. A sharp angled return set up a tremendous forehand pass as Thiem got the mini break back for 4-5.

That sequence sparked a run of four straight points. Thiem caught a break when Tsitsipas set up for an easy high forehand a few feet from net only to put it right back at the Austrian who exploited the gift with a lob inside the baseline to snatch the 56-minute opening set.

"That was the silliest thing that ever happened to me," Tsitsipas said. "I had ball over the net, and I decided to play forehand instead of a smash.

"I don't know what kind of decision was that, but it was very not sure enough. Didn't take time. Just rushed. Didn't take time to think where I want to go and used my strongest shot, and he ended up passing me with a lob and I was in a defensive position afterwards."




Tsitsipas won 10 of 13 net points and was two points from the opening set, but Thiem was calmer amid tiebreak tension.

A fierce frontrunner, Thiem was 19-1 when winning the first set this season. To that point, Thiem was hitting cleaner baseline drives but missed a pair of forehands to face double break point.

On his second break point, Tsitsipas whipped a forehand pass down the line breaking with a firm “come on!” for a 2-1 second-set lead.

The sixth-seeded Greek made that break stand, hitting his forehand with more authority, cleaning up his backhand miscues considerably and cruising through 12 of his final 15 points on serve to snatch the second set and force a final set after 96 minutes.




Though Tsitsipas served 80 percent through the first two sets he couldn’t buy a first-serve to start the third set. Landing just one of seven first-serves in his opening game, Tsitsipas tried to serve-and-volley off a second serve, but Thiem made him pay with a clean forehand pass for break point.

Ripping a heavy forehand down the line, Thiem floated forward and tapped a dropper over net breaking for a 2-0 third-set lead.

Thiem torched his fifth ace to cap a love hold for 3-0.

The fifth game was Thiem’s longest of the match—a six deuce struggle that saw Tsitsipas line up a backhand down the line on break point only to find the tape instead leaving the Greek howling in frustration. Thiem worked hard navigating a 10-and-a-half minute hold grabbing a 4-1 lead with a clenched fist toward coach Nicolas Massu.

On his second match point, Thiem closed when Tsitsipas steered a backhand down the line wide. Thiem topped Tsitsipas for the fifth time in eight meetings.


 

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