On his fourth straight year at the season-ending finale, Dominic Thiem finally achieved his dream of making it past the group stages. He stunned both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to get there and fell to the floor as though he had won the tournament proper.
Now he has to prove that just getting to the semi-final is not enough. Regarding their head to head, it is of course no surprise Thiem came out on top on the clay last year at the French Open, and the Italian got the better of Thiem on the outdoor hard-courts in Shanghai, but Thiem’s win over him in Vienna spells potential doom for Matteo Berrettini.
Thiem got results from being very aggressive and coming in a lot and making good use of the speed of the court. It is fair to say it has taken Berrettini some time to find his feet on this stage, and we can only hope that he can back up his great year this year to be a more frequent visitor to the season-ending championships.
In the mean-time, Thiem will know it is important to ensure he keeps his momentum going if he wants to make a statement here. There has been much talk about when the new (not necessarily next) generation are going to make their move, and he marked his card very much so with those two wins.
Berrettini impressed many with his comments post-match of wanting to be able to go head to head with these guys next year, but for this year, he might have to content himself with serving his apprenticeship.
Prediction: Thiem in straight sets.
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The next compelling episode of this rivalry picks up once more in this country’s capital, moving from the grass of SW19 to the high speed indoor court of the O2. This is a winner-takes-all match to send either Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer into another semi-final.
Federer was slow and sluggish to start in his match against Thiem, and Djokovic was simply out-pummelled by the Austrian. What Federer will not want to do is to get into a battle of punches from the baseline – even on a surface that suits him well, being pulled into achingly long rallies with Djokovic will not be ideal for him.
For Djokovic, he still has an eye on the year-end No. 1 as a motivation, not to mention the prospect of equalling Federer’s six titles at the season finale. Federer has seemed strangely flat at times and we can only hope that this encounter is every bit as thrilling as the clash between Djokovic and Thiem.
Djokovic will once more have to convince himself that the crowd are calling for him, and Federer might hope for them to lift him over the line, but the Serbian starts as the overwhelming favourite to reach the semi-finals with Thiem.
Prediction: Djokovic in three sets.
Berrettini & Thiem are scheduled not before 2pm, with Djokovic & Federer not before 8pm.
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