Dominic Thiem on Tuesday produced a scintillating display of attacking tennis to beat Novak Djokovic and qualify for the last four at the ATP Finals, leaving the Serbian facing a shootout against Roger Federer.
In the standout match at London’s O2 Arena, the Austrian fifth seed took the fight to the world No. 2, recovering from losing the first set to triumph 6-7 (5/7), 6-3, 7-6 (7/5)
Earlier, Federer put himself back in the mix with a 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 win against Italy’s Matteo Berrettini in their round-robin clash.
Federer and Djokovic are to face off today in a repeat of this year’s Wimbledon final to determine who else progresses from Group Bjorn Borg.
Thiem was forced to play high-stakes tennis against the 16-time Grand Slam winner, taking spectators’ breath away with some of his inside-out forehands and single-handed backhands.
Forced to play at his limit, he hit 50 winners compared with Djokovic’s tally of 27, but also racked up 44 unforced errors.
“This was really one of these special matches, what I’ve practiced all my life for — all my childhood for,” Thiem said. “A 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 [down in the deciding tiebreak] 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,” Thiem added.
In a captivating first set the players swapped a break apiece, but Djokovic, a five-time ATP Finals champion, edged the tiebreak.
Thiem broke his opponent at the first opportunity in the second set and, with Djokovic’s error count climbing, went on to level the match.
Thiem also drew first blood in the decider, but cracked in the sixth game as Djokovic leveled the match and appeared to have engineered a switch in momentum.
The Austrian successfully challenged at 30-30 in the 10th game after his forehand was ruled out, preventing a match point for Djokovic, and he toughed it out to level at 5-5.
He then broke Djokovic to love to earn a chance to serve for the match, but stumbled. The decider went to a tiebreak.
Still the drama was not finished. Thiem slipped to 4-1 down, but battled back to win it on his second match point when Djokovic dumped a forehand into the net.
Third seed Federer had put himself under pressure by losing his opening round-robin match to Thiem.
The six-time champion was not at his fluent best on Tuesday, but ultimately had too much for his Italian opponent.
Federer upped his game to take the first set tiebreak, but broke immediately at the start of the second set to leave the big-serving Berrettini with too much to do.
Federer was asked after his win against Berrettini whether his defeat to Djokovic at Wimbledon had left emotional or mental scars.
“We’ll find out, but I think it’s all flushed away from my side,” the Swiss said. “A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then.”
Djokovic is hunting a sixth ATP Finals title to pull level with Federer’s record.
He is also seeking to beat out Rafael Nadal to the year-end No. 1 ranking.
On Monday, top seed Nadal lost his opener in Group Andre Agassi to defending champion Alexander Zverev, while Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Daniil Medvedev.
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