The opening day of the Nitto ATP Finals at the O2 produced an early upset following what was a comfortable first match for last year’s finalist.
It's amazing to play against probably the best player of all time, but luckily I have a pretty good record against him Dominic Thiem
Playing in the Bjorn Borg Group, Roger Federer lost to Dominic Thiem in the evening session after Novak Djokovic had strolled past Matteo Berrettini in the first of the event’s afternoon shifts.
It certainly wasn’t expected though Thiem, playing in his fourth consecutive season-ending finals, arrived at the O2 this year with an impressive record having collected five titles including one at Masters level, has yet to get past the group stages.
His 7-5 7-5 defeat of the six-time champion leaves Federer in a tricky position for qualification into the knock-out stage with the Swiss having to face Djokovic later in the week with only two players abel to progress out of the four-man group.
Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam winner, recovered quickly from being broken in the first game of the match but the Austrian fifth seed regained his advantage in the 11th game to claim the opening set 7-5.
The Swiss icon surprisingly failed to grab an early chance to grab a break in the second and with Thiem’s own game holding well together it was Federer who again slipped up in the 11th game, broken to love after netting a forehand.
The 26-year-old from Austria however, had to repulse a strong challenge from Federer as he attempted to close out the match but he held his nerve saving two break points and sealing his well-earned victory on his second match point.
“I thought Dominic saved himself really well when he had to,” said Federer. “So I thought he played a tough first-round performance today, and my game was probably just not good enough, and the start didn’t help.”
“It’s a normal tournament from here on forward,” added the 38-year-old, who may now have to beat Djokovic to make progress into the last four. The only time he has failed to advance to the knockout stages was in 2008.
“Not allowed to lose anymore for me. That’s how it is every week of the year for the last 20 years, so from that standpoint there is nothing new there,” Federer added.
Thiem, who has now extended his record against Federer to 5-2, commented: “We had a good and close match, and it’s always special to beat Roger, who is a legend.
“It’s amazing to play against probably the best player of all time, but luckily I have a pretty good record against him.”
Earlier as mentioned, Djokovic who is attempting to equal Federer’s record of six titles at the ATP Finals and end the year as the world number one, coasted through his opening match 6-2 6-1 as he dispatched the big-hitting Berrettini with ease in just 64-minutes.
Djokovic must reach the final at the O2 Arena to stand any chance of dislodging Nadal at the top of the rankings but there are major questions over the Spaniard’s fitness.
The Serb broke the Italian five times and at one stage ran off eight consecutive games bedore stricking forehand ro claim his 36th victory at the World Tour Finals.
“It feels great to be back,” said the Wimbledon champion. “Earlier this year I had a great stay in London, and over the years I’ve played well in this arena.”
Djokovic dropped only four points behind his serve and made just three unforced errors in sharp contrast to his rival’s tally of 28 mistakes.
“Over the years I have played really well in this Arena,” Djokovic said after. “This event, which hosts the eight elite players in the world this season, has been in this city (London) for 10 years. There is a reason for that. It has been a very successful tournament and I have enjoyed it very much.”
Reflecting on his opponent making his deut at the O2, he added: “It was obviously not easy for him. He was playing his first World Tour Finals match. I knew that he was going to be a bit more nervous in the beginning, so I tried to use my experience and the right tactics to perform well.”
Monday’s play will feature the first matches of the second Andre Agassi Group which features Rafa Nadal against the defending champion Alexander Zverev and Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas
In the doubles Britain’s Joe Salisbury partnering Rajeev Ram, suffered a 6-3 6-4 loss to Raven Klaasen and Michael Venus as they opened their campaign for a last four place. The pair will have to win both their next matches to qualify,