This year’s Nitto ATP Final title will be settled for the last time at The O2 in London on Sunday and will surprisingly, not feature either of the top two players in the world following their respective defeats at the semi-final stage.
He just crushed the ball. Everything went in from both corners, and he played a couple of very short slices, you know, angles. Novak Djokovic
Both Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal saw their 2020 hopes – in the Serbian’s case – of winning a sixth title to equal Roger Federer’s record and – in the Spaniard’s – of lifting the ATP Final trophy for the first time in 10 appearances at the season-ending championship. A title he has still yet to win.
The defeats leave last year’s losing finalist from Austria, the world number three, Dominic Thiem and Russia’s world number four, Daniil Medvedev ,making his debut in the title match, to fight it out for the honour of getting their name on the prestigious trophy.
Thiem secured his place in the afternoon session when he came back from 0-4 down in the deciding tie-breaker to edge out Djokovic in what had been a thrilling semi-final, 7-5 6-7(10) 7-5(5).
The Austrian’s serve withstood every effort by the top seed to break it down as he came through the match without conceding it once, unlike Djokovic who basically lost the first set by a single break.
Djokovic never looked entirely happy on court but regained some momentum by levelling in the second after a nail biting 22-point tie-break in which he saved four match points against him.
What the title favourite found difficult to deal with was the power which Thiem could generate, a factor which came to the fore during the deciding tie-break as he blasted forehands and backhands to both corners of the court for six consecutive point from 0-4 down and set up two more match points, securing his victory on the second after two-hours and 54-minutes.
A shocked Djokovic commented on his loss by praising his opponent’s performance.
‘Well – what he did from 0-4 in the third-set tiebreaker was just unreal. I mean, I don’t think I played bad. Actually, I made both of my first serves – actually all of my first serves, 4-1, 4-2, 4-5, you know, 4-6, I made all first serves.
“He just crushed the ball. Everything went in from both corners, and he played a couple of very short slices, you know, angles.
“Yeah, I mean, what can you do? I was in the driver’s position at 4-0. I thought, you know, I was very close to win it. Yeah, I mean, he just took it away from me.
“But he deserved it, because he just went for it and everything worked.”
But that power was evident throughout the match and Djokovic admired how well he controlled it.
“I mean, the difference was that when you hit full power and everything goes in, it just goes in. When you hit full power, sometimes it goes out. So simple.
“He, just as I said, he did everything right from 0-4. I mean, I have to put my hat down and say, Congratulations.
“I actually didn’t play bad any point after 4-Love. I thought I was, every point, I was in it. I did hit the ball, I was not pushing it, but he just, yeah, he smashed it and he just played great.”
Djokovic, who dominated the event with four consecutive titles between 2012 and 2015 (having first won it back in Shanghai 2008) responded with a shrug at his current title drought. “Well, it happens, I guess. Can’t win them all,” he remarked.
Thiem, recently crowned as the US Open champion, is fast becoming a thorn in the side of both Djokovic and Nadal having now beaten them both in the same week to underline his readiness to take over from them at the top of the game.
The Austrian has in fact, now won five of his last seven matches against the Serb and four of his most recent seven with the Spaniard plus six of his last seven against the third member of the Big Three, Roger Federer!
“It was for sure a mental battle,” Thiem said after his latest triumph. “I got so tight in the second-set tie-break because to play these legends is always going to be something special.
“Playing for the final here at the Nitto ATP Finals is also something very special and I thought that after my first big title in New York, maybe I’m going to be a little bit more calm, but that was a mistake, I guess.
“I was just as tight and as nervous as before. It was so much on the edge that match, like every single match here. The best players in the world are facing off. So I’m just incredibly happy to be through and just [will] try to get ready for tomorrow.”
Tiem continued: “After I fought so hard to get to the final in the group stage and as well now today. Of course, I will try everything to win the title.
“Anyway now we’re going to have again a first-time winner, no matter what happens in the second semi-final and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It’s going to be the last match of a very special, of a very tough year for everybody, I guess. We’re going to try to put [on] a great show for everybody that is watching.”
At the time he didn’t know who his opponent would be but no doubt was expecting Nadal to challenge him for the title, and that looked to be the case until the end of the second set when the Spaniard’s usually very reliable serve, let him down as he served for that final place to eventually concede it 3-6 7-6(3) 6-3 after nearly two-and-a-half hours.
By targeting the baseline Nadal took early control of the semi-final, breaking Medvedev to love in the eight game and serving out in the next.
The Russian responded by going into a 3-0 lead in the second only to see Nadal level for 4-4. Two lose games by both players kept the match on serve with Nadal surprisingly failing to close out the match when leading 5-4.
In the inevitable tie-break, Medvedev dominated to level and revitalised capitalised by his change in fortune, pulled ahead in the seventh game topropel him towards the finish line which he duly crossed on his first match point.
For Medvedev it was his first win over Nadal on the ATP Tour and he certainly looked the fresher in the final stages of the match in which he produced 13 aces and 42 winners to Nadal’s tally of 3 and 26.
“I felt really strange for him (Nadal) when he was serving at 5-4 in the second set for the match,” Medvedev said. “I felt like I was doing great shots, but there were no links in my game and that is why I was losing. He was better in the important moments and I couldn’t return in those important moments.
“(Then) I decided to change some small things. To be closer (to the lines) and go for it a little bit more because I felt like I had the chance to win some games before.
“It worked really well and I am really happy about it.”
Nadal refused to blame nerves for his defeat and more specifically for failing to serve out when he had the opportunity.
“I think I achieved enough to not find an excuse about the pressure,” Nadal replied when asked if nerves had got the better of him.
“I know I won enough matches and enough tournaments in an even more difficult situation than this one and even in more important matches than tonight.
“I felt I played a bad game. Of course, you are nervous to win the match.
“I think he played some good points and I make a couple of mistakes. And that’s it, and then he played a good tiebreak.
“I should have been winning my serve in the third, the one that I lost. I had easy volley to close the game. Small details make a big difference.”
Should Medvedev win the title on Sunday evening he would become the first player to defeat every member of the world’s top three within the same tournament since David Nalbandian at the 2007 Madrid Open.