Thiem Upsets Djokovic To Clinch SF Berth
The Austrian rallied from 1/4 down in the third-set tie-break to beat Djokovic for the first time on hard court 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(5) at The O2 in London, hugging the baseline and overwhelming the five-time Nitto ATP Finals champion with power from both wings.
”This was really one of these special matches, what I’ve practised all my life for, all my childhood for,” Thiem said. “Really epic one in an amazing atmosphere, beating a legend of our game. And also I’ve qualified for the semi-finals, which is the best.
”Coming back from 1/4 [in the tie-break] was a little bit of luck, but it was an unbelievable match and one I’ll never forget. Novak is the best player in the world and I had to do something special.”
Djokovic had been 3-0 against Thiem on hard court and played nearly flawlessly in the opening set. But Thiem, who has now won four of his past five against Djokovic, opted for full-throated aggression in the second and third sets, blasting backhands down the line and crosscourt forehands that even Djokovic, one of the best defenders in the game, couldn't handle.
Most importantly, Thiem went four-for-four on break points and rebounded after failing to serve out the match at 6-5 in the third set.
“I thought he deserved to win. He just played very courageous tennis and [was] just smacking the ball. He went for broke,” Djokovic said. “The entire match he played same way he played the last point. I have to put my hat down and congratulate him, because he just played a great match.”
The Austrian, who's making his fourth consecutive showing in London, had been 3-6 at the season finale and had never won two matches in one year at the tournament before this week. Thiem, who beat Roger Federer on Sunday night, also became the second player in tournament history to beat Federer and Djokovic, after Germany's Alexander Zverev did last year en route to the title.
The loss keeps Djokovic, the World No. 2, 440 points behind No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the battle for year-end No. 1 in the ATP Rankings. Djokovic had a chance to cut Nadal's lead to 240 after the Spaniard lost on Monday night to Zverev. The Serbian is looking to finish year-end No. 1 for the sixth time, which would tie Pete Sampras' record (1993-98).
Djokovic committed only two unforced errors in the opening set before Thiem raised his level in the second, especially pounding his forehand and skidding the ball to Djokovic off the quick courts at The O2.
The Austrian twice led by a break in the deciding set but both times Djokovic eventually broke back, including at 6-5, when he did so to force a tie-break during a nervy service game from Thiem. After Djokovic jumped out to a 4/1 lead, this London battle looked like it was shaping up to be similar to Djokovic's July London classic, in which he won three tie-breaks to beat Federer in the Wimbledon final.
Djokovic had won his past nine tie-breaks, but Thiem won five consecutive points to earn a match point on his serve at 6/4, which Djokovic saved. In the next point, though, Djokovic netted a forehand and Thiem, this year's first semi-finalist, fell to the floor.
Did You Know?
Thiem is a tour-leading 15-2 (88%) in decisive-set matches this season.