Djokovic: '[Thiem] Was Just Literally Smacking The Ball As Hard As He Could'
Novak Djokovic has played 1,076 tour-level matches, including 49 at the Nitto ATP Finals. But rarely has Djokovic seen an opponent successfully “go for broke” like Dominic Thiem did on Tuesday night at The O2 in London.
Thiem smacked 51 winners and beat Djokovic for the fourth time in their past five meetings – and for the first time on hard court – 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(5) to improve to 2-0 at the season finale and reach the semi-finals.
“I don't think I have experienced too many matches like this where my opponent just goes for every single shot,” said Djokovic, who fell to 1-1 in London. “He was unbelievable, and in some stages it was just incredible that he was just literally smacking the ball as hard as he could and [it] was going in.”
Djokovic, a five-time Nitto ATP Finals champion, had to feel confident heading into the third-set tie-break. He had won his past nine tie-breaks, and he owned the best winning percentage (85%, 11-2) in decisive sets in Nitto ATP Finals history.
But Thiem also had reason to believe: He led the ATP Tour with a 14-2 decisive-set record this season, and he again found a way against Djokovic, coming back from 1/4 down to win his fourth FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting with the Serbian, who still leads their series 6-4.
“He was taking every opportunity to smack the ball as hard as he could. Flatten it out, backhand down the line. He didn't miss too many backhands down the line, really. It was amazing. I have played him before. I know his game. But what he did tonight was just out of ordinary,” Djokovic said.
“I know that he can play in a high level, but tonight was just phenomenal. I had to fight, and I did. I'm proud of coming back from 5-6 down [in the third set]. He was serving for the match.
“I had the tie-break. I was [3/0], serve, 4/1 up, 5/4, you know, maybe should have played a little more aggressive in those moments, but credit to him.”
The second-seeded Djokovic will now face third seed Roger Federer on Thursday in an elimination match: The loser will go home, the winner will advance to the semi-finals. Djokovic leads their FedEx ATP Head2Head series 26-22 and has won their past four matchups.
“I'm still in the tournament. We go head-to-head with Roger. Winner goes to semis. Loser doesn't qualify. As simple as that,” Djokovic said.