In a battle of the single-handed backhands, and with injury questions outstanding for both players, it was a decent opening line-up for a subdued O2 area, in a rematch of last year’s final between defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem.
With both having juggled injury worries coming into this tournament, it looked as though Thiem started off the more aggressive pulling up a few break point chances, but the longer the match wore on the more Tsitsipas looked as though he was warming up to the task, with some great serving and pin-point accuracy when it counted.
Just as when they played the final a year ago, the first set came down to a tie-break, and from 1-4 down, Thiem pulled off a remarkable recovery to take the first set after a pretty major lapse in concentration from Tsitsipas.
It was an early break for Tsitsipas at the start of the second set, and at times Thiem seemed troubled by his knee. In the end that single break was all that the Greek needed to level things off and take things into a decider.
This time it was Thiem who got off to a quick start, breaking early to build up a 3-1 lead. Frustrations were evident for both men, as Tsitsipas looked to redress the balance, while Thiem was looking to drive Tsitsipas back. In the longest game of the match, Tsitsipas came back with is chance to break back, with Thiem digging deep to hold on to his lead.
Thiem closed out the first set in impressive form, turning last year’s result around. With this being Thiem’s fifth straight year at the season-ending finale, he will understand better than most how important it is to get off to a great start.
With an extended time to train during lockdown and far less tournaments since the restart. Thiem agreed that most players arrive here probably in their best shape for a season-ending finally, but in his on-court interview he coined the phrase of bubble-fatigue.
In the vast area, largely empty except for limited staff, support camps and piped applause, the mental side might just be what decides this year’s title.
Thiem said: “Physically I think it’s the easiest year since a long time. Today was my 30th match on tour, which is not a big number, but mentally it is tough, because, I mean, you get so much energy from the fans … and all of this is missing.
“You have to bring it up yourself during the match. I think today was like 2 hours 20 or something. You have all the time to push yourself, give yourself energy – that’s exhausting.”
The player hotel is literally next door to the O2, yet the players cannot make the 200m walk on their own and are driven to the venue each day.
He explained: “I think the whole first or second floor is for us players, so we cannot come and touch with people which are not related to tennis, so I think that makes it a very safe environment.
“But it’s pretty rough because during the whole day we get maybe two, three minutes of fresh air and no sun at all, so that’s it. But, I mean, still it’s great that the event is going on.”
Thiem & Tsitsipas will play their second-round robin matches on Tuesday.
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