Dominic ‘Domi’ Thiem handed Stefanos ‘The Greek God’ Tsitsipas his first loss at the Ultimate Tennis Showdown in the Sunday night session amidst controversy over his participation the previous weekend in the Adria Tour exhibition series where Grigor Dimitrov tested positive for the coronavirus.
I love him every day the same, so there’s no need for father’s day but I wish all fathers the same, happy father’s day and for all the good coached as well. Dominic Thiem
Organised by World No 1 Novak Djokovic with no apparent social distancing, Dimitrov played in both Belgrade with Thiem and the second leg of the Balkans tournament in Zadar on Croatia’s Adriatic coast on Saturday before withdrawing after losing to Borna Coric, complaining of feeling unwell.
“I want to reach out and let my fans and friends know that I tested positive back in Monaco for Covid-19,” World No 19 Dimitrov wrote on Instagram.
“I am so sorry for any harm I might have caused. I am back home now and recovering.”
According to reports, Thiem was tested on arrival at at the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy and found to be negative for COVID-19.
On Sunday he scored his first UTS win by beating Tsitsipas, 3-1: 15-12, 11-13, 16-13, 14-13, in a tight match between the invitational event’s two top 10 players.
“Yesterday was the first hard court match after quite a while, so I had to get used to the court,” reflected Thiem, who had competed on clay in Belgrade
“I think yesterday was a really good match [against Richard Gasquet] as well in general and perfect to get into the tournament, and I am happy with my first quarter.
“It felt so good, yesterday I did not have one so that felt very good.”
Thiem had edged ahead in the opening quarter with a sumptuous flicked backhand pass, one of the shots of the day, and opted for a ‘Winners count x 3’ card to open up an 11-7 lead in the first 10 minutes with a classic serve-and-volley put-away.
Tsitsipas followed suit, blasting down an inch-perfect ace as the match developed into a cut-and-thrust duel as the clock ticked into the final minute when, with only 2 points separating them, ‘The Greek God’ found the net with a serve-and-volley gambit, and ‘Domi’ edged clear to seal the opener, 15-12.
Little separated them in the second quarter, in which Thiem played his ‘-1 Serve’ card at 6-6 and Tsitsipas dropped his next two service points, but then the Greek chose to use his ‘Steal Serve’ card and levelled with 3 minutes to go.
Tsitsipas used his own ‘Winner x 3’ card but he could not find his winning shot, but he defended a two-point lead and won 2 points on serve to tie the match at 1-1.
“I just followed my instincts, remaining calm, thinking about the angles I’m going to hit whilst playing the rally and the right execution, the right mindset whilst I’m on court,” said Tsitsipas after levelling things up.
“I had a more clear mind about what I’m doing and I just took my time a bit more.”
Thiem grabbed the early initiative with another one of the shots of the tournament, a lunging volley at full stretch edging him three points clear in the third quarter.
At 3-9 down, it was certainly the time for Tsitsipas to play his ‘Winner x 3’ card, and 4 successive points dragged him back into the quarter, but Thiem still had 2 cards up his sleeve, and a 3-point winner proved sufficient for ‘Domi’ to see out the quarter, after some helpful advice on his coaching time-out from father Wolfgang.
“I decided after my feelings [to use the cards late], the level was pretty high so I’m super happy and will try and win the fourth as well, now,” said Thiem. “I love him every day the same, so there’s no need for father’s day but I wish all fathers the same, happy father’s day and for all the good coached as well.”
With ‘The Greek God’ still sitting atop the UTS standings and every quarter important, the prospect of a sudden death showdown still loomed large and, at 0-3 down in the final quarter, Tsitsipas raised his game, reeling off 4 successive points to put pressure on the Austrian.
A sumptuous pass saw him pull further clear, and Wolfgang Thiem called another time out.
With Tsitsipas 13-11 up and less than 10 seconds remaining, it looked to be going to a sudden-death decider, but Thiem hurried through his final 2 serves, levelling the quarter at 13-13 to force a deciding point.
It would now either be Thiem’s match or sudden death and it was ‘Domi’ who emerged triumphant, as Tsitsipas netted a backhand on the final point.
Despite his first defeat, ‘The Greek God’ remains at the top of the standings with 3 victories from 4 matches, ahead of Feliciano Lopez, Richard Gasquet and Benoit Paire.
In other matches, David ‘The Wall’ Goffin and Feliciano ‘El Torero’ Lopez served up a close contest, with the Belgian coming through in a sudden death tiebreak, 3-2: 13-14, 17-11, 14-11, 10-19, 1-2; while Corentin ‘The Tornado’ Moutet, Matteo ‘The Hammer’ Berrettini and Richard ‘The Virtuoso’ Gasquet all came through the day with 4-0 victories.
Moutet cruised past Alexei ‘The Sniper’ Popyrin, 4-0: 14-8, 14-12, 17-14, 14-11, while Berrettini overcame Benoit ‘The Rebel’ Paire, who grew increasingly frustrated during the contest and threw his racket in anger after losing a point, sending the Italian through, 4-0: 18-11, 14-12, 14-12, 18-14.
Gasquet was simply too good for Dustin ‘The Artist’ Brown as he hit an array of winners in a straight-sets win, 4-0: 23-10, 20-5, 18-13, 18-10.