In a year that has been scattered with injury niggles, Novak Djokovic put all those to one side as he breezed past Nitto ATP Finals debutante Matteo Berrettini. With the court playing quite fast, Berrettini did well to stay the pace with Djokovic for the first five games before Djokovic converted his second break point chance to take the lead, before breaking again for the first set.
The second set was a breeze for the Serbian, who is look to equal Roger Federer’s record six titles this year, as he jumped out to a 4-0 lead. Berrettini, to his credit, managed to strike back with a break but it was more to save face as he was broken for a third straight time before Djokovic comfortably closed out his opening win.
Berrettini admitted he was nervous, having never imagined he would be at this stage so early in his career.
He said, after the match: “For sure I was nervous (smiling). First time in the Finals after a great year, so, yeah, I was nervous but not in a bad way. You know, normally when I step in the court and I don’t feel nervous, something is wrong. I have to feel nervous to play my best tennis.
“I think I start the match pretty good, but he was just better than me today. So just accepting the loss, and for sure I’m looking forward to play the next matches.”
Djokovic had some sympathy for the young Italian. On his debut, he hardly made a dent on the court.
“I remember back in I think it was 2007 that I played for the first time in the ATP World Tour Finals in Shanghai, and I think I lost all three matches in the group. I was with Nadal and Ferrer, I can’t remember the fourth guy.
“But I was tense. I mean, I was happy that I was there, of course. I was very proud to be part of this elite eight guys, but, you know, it’s an environment which is kind of new to you. Even though it’s a tennis court, a tennis match, it’s still different, knowing that you’re there for the first time and that you’re going to play against a top-10 player every match in the group.
“So that’s why, at the beginning of the match, knowing that he’s probably going to feel a bit more nervous, I wanted to try to use and break the resistance very quickly, which happened in that midway first set. He missed a relatively easy forehand for him. That gave me break. “And after that I started reading his serve better, positioning myself on the court. I started moving really well.”
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Although this is Dominic Thiem’s fourth straight year at the Nitto ATP Finals, the best the Austrian has done is to get a solitary win before going out in the group stages each year. Perhaps this is his year to progress as he opened his account with a win against Federer.
That fact in itself is not a surprise – Thiem had a winning head to head against the Swiss going into this match, and is now on a three-match winning streak against him in 2019, beating Federer for the Indian Wells title, and in the Madrid quarter-finals earlier this year.
It was a fast start for Thiem, breaking Federer in the first game before he was pegged back, and it looked as though it would be business as usual for the six-time champion. A loose game though for Federer cost him the penultimate game with Thiem needing just the one set point to take the lead.
Federer had a chance for a lead in the second set but could not covert it, before once more being broken to love at the end of the second set. This time he made Thiem work for the victory, saving a match point before Thiem grabbed his third straight win over Federer this year.
Federer said: “I thought he played well. I mean, the start definitely didn’t help. That put me on the back foot a little bit. But I recovered well, and I thought after that the match was actually pretty even for a long period of time.
“Had my chances, I felt, you know. Didn’t feel like I was outplayed or anything. Just maybe that first-round hiccups a little bit, not hitting your spots on the serve when you need to, getting into trouble early in the service games which maybe doesn’t happen later on in the tournament.
“I thought also Dominic saved himself real well when he had to, so I thought he played a tough first-round performance today, and my game was probably just not good enough, and the start didn’t help.”
Thiem has clicked into a great gear since teaming up with Nicolas Massu in time to win his first Master title in Indian Wells, and certainly it has made a huge difference in his approach here.
He said, after the match: “To beat him, everything has to fit together. Today I think was the case again. I played very well.
“I played a good match in general. Serving, returning well, which is probably the two most important things indoor. Then probably also the last game was crucial. I don’t even want to think about what happens if he makes that game and comes back to a tiebreak, so I’m very happy that I pulled that through at 6-5.
“In general, it’s a very nice victory for me. I mean, every time only playing against him is a big honour. Beating him is even better, and especially on this surface indoor where he’s feeling well usually.”
Federer & Berrettini will play the day session on Tuesday, with Djokovic & Thiem in the night session.
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