Stefanos Tsitsipas praised his “army” of supporters for giving him the “belief” to march to the Nitto ATP Finals title on his debut.
I would like to thank every single one [of the fans] who came here to support me today with the Greek flags. They made it feel like home. Stefanos Tsitsipas
The ice-cool 21-year-old Greek pipped Austrian Dominic Thiem 6-7(6) 6-2 7-6(4) over 2hr.36min, the longest final since the event moved to London a decade ago.
The sixth seed graduated from lifting the Next Gen crown last year to become the youngest winner of the event since Lleyton Hewitt 18 years ago.
And Tsitsipas, who was Thiem’s hitting partner at the tournament a couple of years ago, said: “[The crowd support] is just phenomenal, having such an army behind me while I am on the court. They give me so much energy. They give me belief that I can achieve the things I want to achieve on the court. They motivate me.
“They just give me so much energy in general and I just love that. I would like to thank every single one [of the fans] who came here to support me today with the Greek flags. They made it feel like home.”
“I have no clue how I played so well in the second set. I have no idea. I think my mind was at ease and I wasn’t really thinking of much, which lead to such a great performance in the second set, breaking him twice. I didn’t give him much options to play with in the second set. It was pretty much an excellent set for me.
“It was pretty frustrating for me to be playing with such nerves for the first time in such a big event. I was a break up. I couldn’t manage to hold it. Things were decided in the tie-break and I am so relieved by this outstanding performance and fight that I gave out on the court.”
After receiving the glittering prize, he added: “It has been a rollercoaster, holding this trophy is amazing.”
Then he turned to Thiem and added: “I would like to congratulate Dominic. You have been an inspiration not only for me but many players around the world. This final we put on was magnificent, tennis is all about this.
“I’m sure we are going to face each other more times in the future and I hope it works this way. We’ll make a deal later!”
Thiem, who had never been past the group stages in three previous visits, said: “I really hope we are going to have some great finals in the future as well, I’m really looking forward to it.”
It is the fourth time in as many years a new title winner has been found following Andy Murray (2016), Grigor Dimitrov (2017) and Alexander Zverev (2018).
It was a tight opening set as both players came out hitting big and trying to attack on the fast court in front of 18,000 flying the flags of both players’ countries.
But it seemed Thiem was finding it more of a struggle to hold serve early on, saving a break point in the fourth game.
Tsitsipas, though, was forced to save two before holding in the seventh while the Austrian had to do likewise in the next game.
It seemed inevitable the set would go into a tie-break, which it duly did.
Thiem took charge, racing to a 3-0 lead in it. He fired down an ace to give himself a set point. His Greek opponent saved it.
But Thiem earned a second off the Tsitsipas serve before sealing the lead after 65 minutes.
But the Austrian was ambushed at the start of the second. He was left reeling as Tsitsipas broke him twice and opened up a 4-0 lead with his opponent only able to win two points.
Was Thiem sleepwalking? Well if he was, he was failing to heed any wake-up calls as Tsitsipas remained unfazed by his first-set loss.
Thiem hung on to his serve finally but it was just delaying the inevitable and when the Austrian dumped a backhand service return into the net, Tsitsipas was level; the second set taking around the half-hour
The match was balanced on a knife edge in the opening game of the deciding set. Thiem found himself two break points down before battling back to hold after a tense seven-minute opening game.
It was wondered how crucial that would be by the close of play, but none of that bothered Tsitsipas who held comfortably before breaking his opponent in the next, Thiem driving his single backhand into the net.
The Greek was calm and assured, not getting carried away by the fact he had his opponent on the ropes. And playing relatively error-free.
For one so young, he displayed remarkably maturity against the fifth seed.
It served him well as he held for 3-1.
But Thiem battled back, held and secured his first break of the match to level up the set, his single-handed backhand working like a dream.
And he took the lead for the first time in the set, winning his service game to love. The bit was between the Austrian’s teeth.
He hadn’t lost a deciding third set since losing to Fernando Verdasco in Rome in May. And he was clearly in the mood to maintain the run.
But Tsitsipas refused to panic. He held and even when forced to serve to save the match at 4-5 maintained his cool, levelling without dropping a point.
Thiem held to put himself a game away from the title but again his opponent remained calm to take the set into a tie-break after two-and-a-half hours.
Tsitsipas raced into a 4-1 lead in it but Thiem roared back to level.
Yet the Greek, typically, held his nerve, got a mini-break and secured two match points. And he took the first when Thiem shanked a forehand service return wide off a second serve.
Tsitsipas fell to his knees and buried his head into the court, got up to hug and kiss Thiem, a good friend. He could let his emotion out now and he was beaming a smile as wide at the Acropolis.
Earlier, Britain’s Andy Murray indirectly played a part in Pierre-Hugues Herbert & Nicolas Mahut winning the men’s doubles title.
The seventh seeds, became the first French duo to lift the crown in 14 years when they defeated fifth seeds Raven Klaasen & Michael Venus 6-3 6-4.
Murray, on the comeback trail, kept Herbert ticking over in the doubles when the Frenchman took a break from Mahut earlier in the year.