London, November 22
Instead of No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs No. 2 Rafael Nadal for the ATP Finals trophy, it’ll be No. 3 Dominic Thiem against No. 4 Daniil Medvedev. Nadal had won 71 matches in a row when grabbing the opening set, and he served for the victory in Saturday’s semifinals when leading 5-4 in the second set. But Medvedev broke at love there and came all the way back to win 3-6 7-6(4) 6-3.
That came after Thiem frittered away four match points in his semifinal against Djokovic because he was “tight and nervous” during a second-set tiebreaker. Thiem gathered himself and eventually reeled off seven of the match’s last eight points after trailing 4-0 in the last tiebreaker, winning 7-5 6-7(10) 7-6(5). “What he did from 0-4 in the third-set tiebreaker was just unreal,” said Djokovic. “I don’t think I played bad. He just crushed the ball and everything went in.”
Thiem ended Djokovic’s bid for a record-tying sixth ATP Finals trophy, while Medvedev prevented Nadal from continuing to pursue the most significant title the 20-time Major champ hasn’t won. Nadal seemed on his way to the final when he reeled off four consecutive games in the second set to give himself the chance to serve for the match. He surprisingly stumbled there.
Once he was back in the match, Medvedev took advantage, dominating the ensuing tiebreaker with the help of a shanked lob winner, a forehand winner that claimed a 26-stroke exchange and a leaping backhand that drew a netted forehand.
Nadal couldn’t shake that off, dropping the match’s last three games as he serve-and-volleyed more than usual, sliced his backhand more than usual and made forehand errors more than usual. Medvedev had been 0-3 against Nadal, including a five-set loss in the 2019 US Open final, and the lanky 24-year-old Russian’s top-notch serve, capable backhand and willingness to hang in long baseline rallies provided Saturday’s breakthrough.
A year ago, Medvedev went 0-3 in round-robin play, while Thiem was the runner-up to Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Whoever wins the final will be the tournament’s sixth different champion over the past six years, the longest such stretch since 1974-79.
It was the first time since 2004 that the top four players in the rankings filled the four semifinal slots. Djokovic, already assured of finishing the year ranked No. 1 for a record-tying sixth time, was trying to match Roger Federer’s mark of six ATP Finals trophies. Thiem’s 300th career tour-level victory made him only the second man with at least five wins each against the Big Three of Djokovic (5-7 career mark), Federer (5-2) and Nadal (6-9). Andy Murray is the other. — PTI