Dominic Downs Rafa, Takes Control Of Group London 2020

Austrian owns 2-0 record in Group London 2020

Editor's Note: Dominic Thiem was declared winner of Group London 2020 later in the evening due to Stefanos Tsitsipas' victory over Andrey Rublev.

Dominic Thiem earned a crucial victory at the Nitto ATP Finals on Tuesday, as he overcame Rafael Nadal 7-6(7), 7-6(4) at The O2 in London.

In a meeting between the top two players in Group London 2020, Thiem saved two set points in a marathon 72-minute opener and held his nerve after failing to convert three consecutive match points at 5-4 in the second set. With his seventh win in nine matches against Top 10 players this year, Thiem is now 2-0 in round robin play and has boosted his chances of reaching the semi-finals in London for the second straight year.

Last year’s runner-up stepped inside the baseline and took his groundstrokes early to push Nadal behind the baseline and earn back-to-back wins against the World No. 2 for the first time. Five of the past six sets between Thiem and Nadal have required tie-breaks and the Austrian has won them all. In the Australian Open quarter-finals in January, Thiem outlasted Nadal 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(6).

“I think it was a great match from the first to the last point,” said Thiem in an on-court interview. “I was pretty lucky to get that first set. I was 2/5 down in the tie-break. Against Rafa, it is nice to win the first set but he is still there 100 per cent from the first to the last point. I knew that maybe I had a slight advantage when I won the first set, but I still had to stay super focussed.”

Thiem will attempt to earn his 300th tour-level victory when he meets Andrey Rublev in his final round robin match on Thursday. The World No. 3 has lost his past two ATP Head2Head contests against the Russian, which includes a quarter-final loss at last month’s Erste Bank Open in Vienna.

With both men eager to take time away from their opponent in the first set, Thiem played with aggression from the baseline and Nadal came to the net on 20 occasions (14/20). In the tie-break, the 13-time Roland Garros champion drove his backhand down the line and showcased his volleying skills to gain a 5/2 advantage. Thiem increased his aggression, especially on his return, to save two set points and crushed a crosscourt forehand to convert his first set point after 72 minutes.

Nadal continued to hold serve with relative ease in the second set and earned the first break of the match at 3-3. The left-hander attacked Thiem’s backhand to earn break point and anticipated well to strike a forehand winner down the line. But Thiem responded immediately, as he withstood forehand aggression from Nadal with pace and precision on his backhand side to break back.

Nadal handed Thiem three consecutive match points with uncharacteristic errors at the start of the 10th game. But the Spaniard served with power and moved forward to escape danger. Thiem eventually clinched victory in the tie-break, as he overpowered his rival from the baseline to win three straight points from 3/3. Nadal struck a crosscourt backhand error to close the match.

“The match was at a very high level with all strokes,” said Thiem. “I am very happy with the way I served, because most of the time when I get the first serve in, I am on the offence and I have a good percentage to win the point. When I was in difficult situations like the first-set tie-break… the serve helped me out a lot. I think it is maybe the most important stroke in indoor tennis. I am very happy that it worked well.”

Nadal, who defeated Andrey Rublev in straight sets on Sunday, drops to 1-1 in Group London 2020. The Spaniard will face reigning champion Stefanos Tsitsipas in his final round robin encounter on Thursday. Nadal was the only player to beat the Greek at this event last year.

“Well done to [Dominic]. He played an amazing match, and I played well too,” said Nadal. “My feeling is not negative. I lost, but I had plenty of chances in the first [set] and then I [was a] break up in the second [set]… I'm happy with the way I played. I think my chances are bigger to have a very good result now than five days ago because the level of tennis, even if I lost today, for me is much higher.”

In the evening session, Tsitsipas and Rublev will both attempt to earn their first wins of the tournament. If Tsitsipas defeats Rublev, Theim will become the first player to qualify for the semi-finals.

 
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