It was a cagey start to the encounter. Given that Dominic Thiem had been reportedly battering the fluff off the ball in practice, he started with a lot more deft play, but as the games ticked on and the nerves settled, we began to see a change of gear in Thiem’s play with pace fizzing back over the net to Novak Djokovic.
Towards the end of the set the pace quickened from Thiem, and all it took was a single break point, converted, to hand the Austrian the advantage. He served out the first set comfortably leaving a lot of work for the World No. 1 to do.
The start of the second set saw very little between them once more, but it always felt like it was the pace of Thiem that was more present, with the first chance to break again falling to the Austrian. This time he could not gain the upper hand.
After a little over an hour and 20 minutes, finally Djokovic brought up his first break point chance in the match, duly salvaged by some big serving from Thiem. Djokovic’s immovable defence was beginning to bring forth yelps of frustration from Thiem, who looked at times like he was second-guessing himself.
Thiem saw an early lead in the tie-break evaporate as Djokovic clawed his way back in, only to be pegged back, with momentum then swinging between match points for Thiem and set points for Djokovic.
Four match points came and went for the Austrian, and Djokovic took advantage of his fourth set point to take this into a decider.
Just as tense as the sets before it, there was not the sniff of a break point for either player, as Thiem seemed to get over the loss of four chances to close out the match. But at the start of the final tie-break it just looked as through Djokovic would be the one to come out on top, leaping out to a 4-0 lead.
Thiem’s mental toughness has improved since he and Djokovic met in Australia, and the Austrian wrestled away the lead Djokovic had developed to finally close out the match on a sixth match point to make it back to back finals.
As Djokovic’s season ends, he acknowledged Thiem’s level, as the uncertainly now continues as to when the Australian Open will take place.
Djokovic told reporters: “I thought …every point, I was in it. I did hit the ball, I was not pushing it, but he just smashed it and he just played great.
“It’s just disappointing to finish the season with a loss like this. Let’s see what 2021 brings. Australia is around the corner in a way, but no. one can enter before January so it’s going to be a bit longer pre-season I think for all of us wherever we are based. Then let’s see from there.”
Thiem said, after the match: “After I fought so hard to get to the final in the group stage and as well now today. Of course, I will try everything to win the title.
“Anyway, now we’re going to have again a first-time winner, no matter what happens in the second semi-final. Both of them will fight 100 per cent today and as well tomorrow, but I’m looking forward a lot.
“It’s going to be the last match of a very special, of a very tough year for everybody, I guess. We’re going to try to put [on] a great show for everybody that is watching.”
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Daniil Medvedev  def. Rafael Nadal  3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3
The memories of Daniil Medvedev’s last encounter with Rafael Nadal at the O2 will have been a haunting one. Up by a set, up by 5-1 in the decider, a match-point only to lose it in the tie-break.
The signs were there for history to repeat itself with the first break points falling to Medvedev, but Nadal’s serving has been solid this week and rescued him. Just the slightest drop in Medvedev’s level opened the door, and Nadal galloped through with a break to love, allowing him to close out the first set comfortably.
It was a good response at the start of the second set for Medvedev as he swiftly built up a 4-1 lead, but again a lapse on his part saw Nadal reel off four games in a row. However, stepping up to serve for the match, Medvedev was swinging for the fences, breaking the Spaniard to love.
In the tie-break again it was Medvedev that pushed ahead, and he kept the advantage to clinch the second set and take us to a decider.
Straight away Medvedev was piling the pressure in Nadal, but typical of the ebbs and flows of the match thus far, Nadal denied the Russian a chance to go ahead. But experience and perseverance paid off with Medvedev finishing with a flourish, breaking the Spaniard twice at the end of the set to clinch a spot in the final, denying Nadal a chance to add this elusive title to his collection – for at least another year.
After the match, Nadal felt he had given it all, as his wait for an elusive season-ending title continues: I think I achieved enough to not find an excuse about the pressure. I know I won enough matches and enough tournaments in
an even more difficult situation than this one and even in more important matches than tonight. So I don’t feel that way. Small details makes a big difference. Just well done for him and not enough good for me.
Having tied Roger Federer’s tally of 20 Grand Slams this year, the next few years between the Big Three will be important, especially with this batch of chasing pack players snapping at their heels.
He contined: “My goal is always the same: to go to every tournament and to give myself a chance to compete well and to try to win it. That’s the goal of every year. My motivation have been always the same. Next year gonna be an important year. I hope to be ready to fight for the things that I want to fight. I’m going to work hard during the off-season to be ready for the beginning.”
Medvedev acknowledged that his level lifted from the second set, and us relishing the chance to take on Thiem for the title, having crashed out of the tournament without a win last year.
He said: “To beat Rafa you need everything. Good backhand, good forehand working this day. Mentally you need to be super strong because he’s there all the point. Last point, the ball touches the net, in my mind, I’m like, If the ball passes, we’re gonna play again, and we go again and we go again.
“It’s great that we managed to beat two most biggest players in the history of sport. I think it’s super for tennis. We are starting to get to take our marks.”
The singles final takes place on Sunday not before 6pm GMT.
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