London | Its Tstsipas versus Thiem for O2 title
The unlikely lads will take to centre stage when Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem meet to see who takes home the ATP Finals trophy at the 02 on Sunday night.
I'm really glad I played well, stayed calm. It's a great moment not just for me, for everyone else, my country, my team. I'm proud of myself, how hard I fought, how concentrated I stayed in the breakpoints. Didn't crack under pressure. I was very composed and very mature in my decisions Stefanos Tsitsipas
Debutant Tsitsipas and Thiem, who had never got beyond the group stage in three previous attempts, were outsiders at the start of the tournament.
All the talk was about the old guard. How Novak Djokovic was favourite and destined to topple Rafa Nadal as world No.1. How Roger Federer would be a good bet for a seventh title if he could get in the groove.
But it was confirmed the next generation had taken charge when 21-year-old Tsitsipas overcame Federer, the last survivor of the Big Three, in straight sets to reach the final.
And Thiem, only 26, joined him by overcoming defending champion Alexander Zverev in the second semi-final.
Tsitsipas believes his opponent will “give me a hard time” but added “I’m going to do the same (to him)”.
And he revealed how his final opponent had been a motivation to him.
The Greek sixth seed: “Dominic has inspired me a lot to be a better version of myself when I’m out on the court. I see a lot of things that he does on the court, and I try to do the same. Because I have mentioned this before: what Roger does, only Roger does. It’s really difficult to copy what you see. So to me Dominic is more, like, something normal, normal in a way that something that’s possible, something that’s possible.
“Roger is an exceptional talent. We all know that. He has a very difficult game style to copy. So for me, Dominic has always been someone that I looked up to and wanted to, wanted always to play with the same intensity and the same will that he puts in the court.
“He puts a lot of effort and a lot of — I would just describe him as an intense player. If he’s in the zone, he can just create so much opportunities with his game. “
When informed he has supporters in Thiem’s home country, he added with a smile: “It’s nice to know I have an Austrian fan base.”
Tisitsipas revealed he was “living the dream” as he wrecked new newly-installed tournament favourite Federer’s hopes of extending his record title haul to seven with a 6-3 6-4 victory in the opening semi-final.
It was the Master having to bend his knee to the Apprentice in the showdown between players aged 17 years apart, the biggest in the history of the event; the Greek being only 21.
The first-timer was merely five years old when Federer claimed his first Wimbledon crown 16 years ago and insisted the win was “a dream come true” as he beamed a smile seemingly as wide as the arena in which he stood centre stage.
Tsitsipas, who beat Federer in this year’s Australian Open, said: “I grew up watching Roger here at the ATP Finals and Wimbledon and other finals, I wished one day I could face him and I’m here living the dream.
“I remember myself being one of the kids here watching the event and I could never picture myself here. But it can happen.”
The charismatic sixth seed, with his long flowing locks kept in place by an orange bandana, had a ball.
After losing an epic three-setter against Nadal in his final round-robin match, there was no sign of physical fatigue. And, despite his inexperience on the big stage, he displayed nerves of steel as he kept his emotions in check with the majority of the 18,000 packed inside the dome willing Federer to victory.
Especially when it really mattered. He was forced to save a break point in the opening game before breaking Federer for a 2-0 lead, clinching it with a crunching forehand.
It was the only break he needed as Federer, so dominant against Djokovic in the shoot-out for a last-four spot, played below the ridiculously high level we have been so used to him playing at over the years. His serve was a pale shadow of the sublime version which largely did for Djokovic, More errors than usual crept into his game. And he was unable to win any of the half-dozen break points earned in the first set.
Two of those opportunities to break back were squandered in a 14-minute game at 5-3. It took Tsitsipas seven set points to go in front in that game.
The focused Tsitsipas again broke Federer early in the second set but the Swiss managed to break back at the tenth attempt.
But again the 20-time Grand Slam champion faltered to give his opponent another break.
As Tisitsipas served for the match, Federer let two more break points slip from his grasp. The Greek took full advantage to stick a final pin into the balloon of expectations blown up by the vast majority of the crowd.
He said: “I’m really glad I played well, stayed calm. It’s a great moment not just for me, for everyone else, my country, my team. I’m proud of myself, how hard I fought, how concentrated I stayed in the breakpoints. Didn’t crack under pressure. I was very composed and very mature in my decisions.
Were you surprised you remained calm, especially with the break point saved? He said: “Not really. I did manage to play this way in Basel when I faced him. I was kind of disappointed and left from that match knowing that I haven’t really gave out in the court my best. I still had plenty of things to do better. So for me was a good start, a good way to take things for the next upcoming match against him.
“I think I learned a lot of things from my Basel match against him. He did play well there, but, you know, once you get the patterns, once you analyse a bit the game better and know what to expect next time, you always feel and you always want to put yourself in the state of mind where you think that you can always do better.”
The Greek fans? He said: “I did hear people yell my name and supporting me in Greek. It’s important. It’s important for the growth of the sport in our country. I enjoy having people from Greece come support me, and I hope they do more often, because that makes me feel closer to playing home, let’s say. Gives me a tremendous amount of energy, although I did feel like more Swiss fans than Greek fans (against Federer). I tried not to be bothered by this, because I did receive a lot of fan support until this match.
Federer added: “No doubt I had my chances. Yeah, don’t know exactly why it went the way it did. I think getting broken with missing two smashes in one game, that hasn’t in a long, long time or ever. So that was tough. That’s not something you can train or practice for. My feet were not quite there yet, still not quite getting used to the high one and all that stuff.
“But, God, you know, I accepted it and moved on and actually got into the match well. Had some good spells, but the spells where things were not working well, they were pretty bad, you know. At this level, you just can’t have it happen, so that was pretty disappointing.”
Thiem proved too strong for Zverev as he ended the German’s bid of successfully defending his title.
Probably the biggest striker of a tennis ball in the game overcame his 22-year-old opponent 7-5 6-3.
Thiem has been primarily known for his ability on clay, but he proved he had the all-court game on the dark-grey hard court under the dome.
The Austrian, 26, came up with the goods in the major moments even though Zverev got his big serve into decent working order .
Thiem broke the German to take the first set, with Zverev’s serve breaking down as he produced his third double fault.
He did the same in the sixth game of the second and moved on to victory.
Thiem said: “This is just a big, big dream coming true for me. It is one of the best tournaments all year, one of the most prestigious tournaments all year, and I’m getting the chance to play the final. It’s unreal to me. To beat the defending champion, a good player, an unbelievable player, this is always a great achievement and I’m very, very happy,”
Zverev said: “The match was, I thought, pretty even. Dominic obviously played very good from the baseline. But I was playing with no returns, actually. I was returning really bad and didn’t put a lot of pressure on his serve. And when I did, he was coming out with good serves, good points. Yeah, credits to him. I played a bad game in the second set, and, yeah, that match was over a few games later.”