Thiem: 'Classic And Epic. Probably The Best Match I've Ever Played'
Dominic Thiem minced no words after finishing off a thrilling third-set tie-break victory against five-time champion Novak Djokovic at the Nitto ATP Finals on Tuesday evening in what was perhaps one of the best matches of 2019.
“It was maybe the best match I’ve ever played,” Thiem said. “It was a real classic and epic match, which will happen from time to time at these big tournaments.”
Thiem had trailed Djokovic 3-6 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series, and the Serbian is pushing to potentially finish year-end No. 1 in the ATP Rankings for a record-tying sixth time. But Thiem showed no fear on the court, powering his way to the win after nearly three hours.
“I knew that I had to play like this to beat him. Against everybody who qualified for this tournament here, there is a special effort necessary to win. I did it against Roger, and I did it also today,” Thiem said. “Probably Novak is the best player in the world right now, so I had to do something outstanding, something unusual, and that's what I did. I mean, I was hitting really, really hard.”
The 26-year-old is the first Austrian to qualify for the semi-finals of the Nitto ATP Finals, a feat not even former World No. 1 Thomas Muster accomplished. Thiem won just one round-robin match at the season finale in each of the past three years.
“I’m really confident, of course. It was I think for the first time that I beat two [members] of the Big Three back-to-back, which gives me a lot of confidence,” Thiem said. “I'm super happy and proud that I reached the semi-finals for the first time. It was a big goal, but of course it's not enough now. I'll try to play a good match against Matteo [Berrettini] on Thursday. Of course, it's a little bit more comfortable now that I don't have a lot of pressure in this match, but of course I want to continue the great shape and then [turn my] full focus on the semi-finals.”
The 16-time tour-level champion is tied for the ATP Tour-lead this season alongside Djokovic with five trophies. But with his semi-final qualification, the World No. 5 is just two wins from finishing the season with a bang in London.
“It would be the biggest title of my career. I think this tournament here is almost on level with the Grand Slams, because it's so tough to win it,” Thiem said. “You have to beat only Top 10 players. You have to beat the eight best players of the season. Maybe this tournament is the most difficult to win all year.”
Thiem put himself in position to be able to look ahead at that by battling through a memorable classic against Djokovic. He let slip a break advantage twice in the decider — including at 6-5 — but managed to overcome a 1/4 deficit in the third-set tie-break to move to 15-2 in deciding sets this year.
“It had everything what a match like this needs. He was up, I was up. He was playing amazing points. Me, I was playing amazing points. And then I think the match deserved an end in the third-set tiebreak,” Thiem said. “If we are playing two hours 45, two Top 10 players, it's only about luck, and it was a little bit more on my side today in the third-set tiebreak. But I'm really happy and proud because… it was probably the best match I’ve ever played.”
Entering the season, the Austrian had won just 55.9 per cent of his tour-level hard-court matches. But after defeating Djokovic, he is 25-9 on hard courts in 2019, giving him a winning percentage of 73.5 per cent this season. He has won three of his five titles in 2019 on the surface, including his first ATP Masters 1000 title on hard courts at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
Thiem believes that there are “two main factors” that have aided his improvement on the surface.
“The first is that I really improve my aggressive game style. I'm coming in to the net way more, and that's just important on the hard courts,” Thiem said. “There are also some big advantages for me on surfaces like this. I don't get the backhand in uncomfortably. I can hit it most of the time in a pretty good zone for me. That's why I can go many times for a very risky shot, and the possibility that the ball goes in is pretty high because this surface makes it possible that I don't have to hit it too uncomfortable.”
Thiem is looking plenty comfortable at The O2, and now he is guaranteed a spot in the last four at the season finale.