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Dominic Thiem insists on beating Novak Djokovic to reach title match in ATP Finals




LONDON – Dominic Thiem thought winning his first Grand Slam title at the US Open would calm him down during the most tense moments of the biggest matches. He realized in his ATP Finals showdown with No. 1 Novak Djokovic how wrong that idea was.

Still, after losing four match points in their semi-final on Saturday for being “tight and nervous” during a tiebreak in the second set, Thiem got together. He eventually took away seven of the last eight points of the game to advance to the final of the season-ending championship.

Third-placed Thiem ended Djokovic’s bid for a record-tying sixth ATP Finals title, which came 7-5, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5) after trailing 4-0 in the closing tiebreaker.

“What he did from 0-4 in the third set tiebreaker was just unreal,” said Djokovic, a 17-time Grand Slam champion. “I don’t think I played bad … He just smashed the ball and everything went in.” When it ended with Djokovic sailing a forehand long, Thiem dropped his racket and covered his face with his hands.

Thiem could have closed things more than an hour earlier. But in the earlier tiebreak, Thiem acknowledged, “I wasn’t that strong mentally.”

His 300th career game victory took him to the final of the season tournament for the second year in a row; he was the runner-up to Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2019.

No. 2 Rafael Nadal would fight against No. 4 Daniil Medvedev are in the second semifinal. None of the last three men in the field has won the tournament, meaning there will be a sixth different champion in the last six years, the longest stretch since 1974-79.

It is the first time since 2004 that the top four players in the rankings have completed the four semi-finals for the ATP Finals. This year’s group is quite the quartet, winning the past 10 Grand Slam titles and the past nine Masters 1000 trophies.

Already confident to finish the year at No. 1 for a record sixth time, Djokovic sought to match Roger Federer’s score of six ATP Finals trophies.

In Saturday’s rematch of the Australian Open final in February, where Djokovic defeated Thiem in five sets, there were many long baseline exchanges on the indoor hard court – where it was quiet as spectators were excluded due to the coronavirus pandemic – and few break opportunities for both players.

Thiem conceded three break points and saved them all, a decent performance against supreme riot Djokovic. And while Thiem only managed to produce a few breakpoints, he used one of them to take a 6-5 lead in the opening set.

In the second, Thiem’s ​​ace put him 6-5 in the tiebreaker, one point ahead of the win.

But Djokovic saved that first chance with a 127 mph service winner. Thiem’s ​​next chance to win came at 7-6, but he committed a double fault.

“I was pretty much tight in my whole body,” said Thiem. The third was 9-8 when he pushed a forehand off the line. At 10-9, Djokovic eliminated No. 4 with a forehand that landed exactly on a line.

That started a three-point run by Djokovic to steal the set and extend the match.

However, Thiem regrouped to become second man with at least five wins each against the Big Three of Djokovic (5-7 career mark), Federer (5-2) and Nadal (6-9). Andy Murray is the other.

“I think that’s super special,” said Thiem. “Every game against them is a huge privilege. It’s a huge opportunity to learn. Beating these guys will give you a huge boost of confidence.”

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