The last ATP Finals to be played at The O2 got underway on Sunday with top quality singles matches played in the silent 17,000 seater auditorium due to the lack of spectators thanks to the current lockdown against the coronavirus pandemic.
Over the last few years I experienced how important it is to have a good start to this tournament. Ideally win the first match and I am very happy that I have done that. Dominic Thiem
The day opened with Dominic Thiem successfully avenging last year’s championship match defeat by Stefanos Tsitsipas in three sets and was followed in the evening session by Rafa Nadal defeating The O2 debutant, Andrey Rublev in straight sets.
Taking the two Group London 2020 players opening round robin matches in chronological order, Austria’s Thiem the recently crowned US Open champion, found himself embroiled in a bit of a struggle against the defending champion missing a number of break opportunities in the first set but eventually capturing it in a tie-break when he came back from 1-4 down to secure it 7-5.
The Greek star responded by breaking early in the second and then holding out to level the match, building up steam to head for a possible three-set victory.
Thiem though, responded well by breaking his rival in the second game with a delicately executed forehand and then successfully holding off Tsitsipas to claim the opening match after two-hours and 17-minutes 7-6(5) 4-6 6-3.
“I think the level was higher last year,” Thiem said as he compared their two matches at The O2.
“We were both in great shape last year in the final, we wanted that title 100 percent. The atmosphere was insane last year in the final and today was a little bit different.”
The Austrian hit eight aces and 31 winners and he dropped his serve only once.
“It was a very tough match. We both served well and that conditions are fast,” Thiem continued.
“I can’t have any slow starts to any of my matches here (at The O2) against top 10 players.
“Over the last few years I experienced how important it is to have a good start to this tournament. Ideally win the first match and I am very happy that I have done that.
“I’m feeling physically better than last year’s (tournament), that’s for sure,” he added. “But I think the bubble life is exhausting as well. It is a very new experience for all of us with all the testing which is happening around the world with the tournaments.
“I’m just grateful that events like this is still happening.”
Later in the day Nadal opened his own bid for the one major title which has eluded him during his illustrious career, and he got off to a good comfortable start as he outplayed Rublev 6-3 6-4.
Nadal, who last month equalled Roger Federer’s record of 20 Grand Slams by winning the French Open, has won 86 titles but only one of those has been achieved on an indoor hard court.
In contrast to his two main rivals, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, who have triumphed at the ATP Tour Finals on six and five occasion respectively, Nadal is keen to join them on the event’s roster of champions having fallen at the last hurdle twice before.
Nadal, 34, and his much younger Russian challenger, held serve comfortably in the early stages of their opening group match and it was the Spaniard’s serve — which the 23-year-old Muscovite found impregnable, much to his frustration – proved the key.
Nadal broke him in the sixth game of the first set and followed that up with another break in the opening game of the second and held on to claim his victory after 77-minutes without having to face a break point.
“Always the first match is very tricky,” said Nadal. “Every match is difficult when you’re playing against the best of the best so it’s a positive start for me, very happy.
“I think my serve worked very well tonight so that’s a bit of help always on these surfaces.
“I had my few chances on the return, and I converted.”
The French Open champion said winning in straight sets was a big confidence boost ahead of his “super-difficult match” against Thiem on Tuesday.