After a slow start on Sunday, Roger Federer stated in his post-match press conference that from here on in it was like a usual tournament with no losses. Despite having schooled Matteo Berrettini in their past meeting at Wimbledon this year, the Italian looked a little more at ease than in his debut, staying toe-to-toe with Federer in the first set with the only single break point chance giving Federer a potential set point, only to be denied by the Italian.
It was a more comfortable affair in the tie-breaker for the first set, which has not always been the case, as he broke Berrettini twice to close out the first set. Federer might have taken the wind out of his sails from that point on, breaking Berrettini in the first game and keeping him at bay. Federer found himself having to fend off three break points and providing one last twist, breaking for the match.
After the match, he said: “He got a bit more free points today, especially that first set I thought in particular, which at Wimbledon I felt it was pretty slow. But I knew he was much better then, that match, as well. I think he was not sure. I knew (smiling). He’s shown that in a great way to qualify here for the World Tour Finals. That semis at the US Open, that was a big run for him, and I think it just shows that there is more to come for him, you know, because he has the variation with the slice. He’s got the big forehand and the big serve. That goes a long way in our game.”
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It is fitting that this match was the first of the tournament to go to three sets, and with arguably the most in form players this week. Novak Djokovic had looked impressive in his opener as he started his bid for a record-equalling sixth title and the year-end No.1 spot as he dispatched a nervous Berrettini with ease.
What he maybe had not bargained on was the equally impressive way in which Dominic Thiem had beaten Federer. The pair traded breaks early on and Djokovic had chances to reclaim the advantage but could not convert as the pair needed a tea-break to split them.
It was nervy affair, with mini-breaks being traded before Djokovic nudged ahead, this time converting his one set point. The effort seemed to bring about a lull in Djokovic’s game as he found himself quickly 0-3 down as Thiem took control of the set.
The early advantage went to Thiem at the start of the decider only to be pegged back in the middle of the set and a brace of breaks traded at the end of the set meant that arguably the best match of the tournament would be decided by a tie-break.
Djokovic surged comfortably ahead for a 4-1 lead, but Thiem thundered away relentlessly to work his way back to level pegging, losing just one match point on the way to moving to the top of the Bjorn Borg group.
Djokovic was quick into press, full of praise for Thiem, as he looks to a winner-takes-all encounter with Federer on Thursday.
“I thought he deserved to win. He just played very courageous tennis and just smacking the ball. He went for broke. I mean, the entire match he played same way he played the last point. I mean, I have to put my hat down and congratulate him, because he just played a great match.”
Thiem had collapsed to the ground almost as if he had won the tournament itself and received a rousing round of applause when he came into the press room, after having advanced past the group stages for the first time in four attempts.
He said: “It was a real classic and epic match which will happen from time to time at these big tournaments. It had everything what a match like this needs. He was up; I was up. He was playing amazing points.
“Me, I was playing amazing points. And then I think the match deserved an end in the third-set tiebreak. Well, there it’s, I think, if we are playing two hours 45, two top 10 players, it’s only about luck, and it was a little bit more on my side today in the third-set tiebreak.
“But I’m really happy and proud, because as I said before, it was probably the best match I ever played.”
Djokovic & Federer will be the night match on Thursday.
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