Djokovic: 'He Just Took It Away From Me'
Long after the final ball was struck in Dominic Thiem’s epic three-set thriller against Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals, the World No.1 was still trying to figure out where it all got away from him.
Djokovic was bidding to become the second six-time champion in Nitto ATP Finals history, equalling Roger Federer’s record tally. But he was waylaid by an inspired Thiem, who rallied with his back to the wall to pull off a 7-5, 6-7(10), 7-6(5) stunner.
Their tense battle had the makings of an instant classic from the start, as Djokovic was narrowly edged out of the opening set and had to save four match points to take the second set in a tie-break. Even as they stayed neck-and-neck in the decider, Djokovic looked to be closing in on his eighth Nitto ATP Finals championship appearance as he surged ahead to a 4/0 lead.
But the reigning US Open champion had other ideas, and Djokovic saw his lead quickly evaporate as Thiem reeled off six consecutive points to turn around the tie-break, booking his spot in the final for the second year in a row.
“I mean… what he did from 4/0 in the third-set tie-break was just unreal,” Djokovic said with a dry chuckle in his post-match press conference. “I don’t think I played bad. Actually I made all of my first serves… 4/1, 4/2, 4/5, 4/6, I made all first serves.”
But the problem wasn’t so much what Djokovic did or didn’t do. It was the way Thiem seemed to find another level under pressure, turning searing backhands into winners and running his opponent from corner to corner. In other words, giving the World No. 1 a taste of his own medicine.
“Yeah, what can you do?” Djokovic said, putting his hands up to shrug. “I was in the driver’s position at 4/0, I thought I was very close to winning it, but he just took it away from me. But he deserved it, because he just went for it and everything worked.
“He did everything right from 0/4. I mean, I have to [take my hat off] and say congratulations. I actually didn’t play bad on any point after 4/0. Every point, I was in it. I did hit the ball, I was not pushing it; he just smashed it and he played great.”
It was an epic end to an epic run as Djokovic bid farewell to The O2, the venue where he claimed four consecutive Nitto ATP Finals titles between 2012-2015 to bring his tally to five (including 2008 Shanghai). But the World No. 1 said he was already looking ahead to the upcoming season - and the chance to add more hardware to his name as the tournament heads to its new Turin home in 2021.
“I’m not relieved [that the season is over]... It’s just disappointing to finish the season with a loss like this,” he reflected. “But at the same time I enjoy competing, I enjoy travelling and I enjoy doing what I love. Let’s see what 2021 brings.”