Instead of No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 2 Rafael Nadal competing for the ATP Finals trophy, No. 3 Dominic Thiem is to face off against No. 4 Daniil Medvedev.
Nadal had won 71 matches in a row when grabbing the opening set, and he served for the victory in Saturday’s semi-finals when leading 5-4 in the second set, but Medvedev broke at love there and came all the way back to win 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, claiming the last four games.
“It’s great that we managed to beat two of the biggest players in the history of the sport,” Medvedev said. “It’s super for tennis.”
Thiem frittered away four match points in his semi-final against Djokovic because he was “tight and nervous” during a second-set tiebreaker.
However, Thiem gathered himself and eventually reeled off seven of the match’s last eight points after trailing 4-0 in the last tiebreaker, winning 7-5, 6-7 (10-12), 7-6 (7-5).
“What he did from 0-4 in the third-set tiebreaker was just unreal,” said Djokovic, a 17-time Grand Slam champion. “I don’t think I played bad... He just crushed the ball and everything went in.”
Thiem ended Djokovic’s bid for a record-tying sixth ATP Finals trophy, while Medvedev prevented Nadal from continuing to pursue the most significant title the 20-time major champ has not won.
Instead of a 57th meeting between Djokovic and Nadal, Thiem and Medvedev are to face off for the fifth time. Thiem leads 3-1, including a straight-set victory in the US Open semi-finals in September en route to the 27-year-old Austrian’s first Grand Slam championship.
“I, for sure, can cause him some trouble,” Medvedev said.
He did that to Nadal, too.
Nadal seemed on his way to the final when he reeled off four consecutive games in the second set for a chance to serve for the match. He surprisingly stumbled.
“I played a bad game. That’s it,” said Nadal, who deflected a question about whether he had any physical issues during the match.
Once he was back in the match, Medvedev took advantage, dominating the ensuing tiebreaker with the help of a shanked lob winner, a forehand winner that concluded a 26-stroke exchange and a leaping backhand that drew a netted forehand.
Nadal could not shake that off, dropping the match’s last three games as he serve-and-volleyed more than usual, and sliced his backhand and made forehand errors more than usual.
Medvedev had been 0-3 against Nadal, including a five-set loss in last year’s US Open final, and the lanky 24-year-old Russian’s top-notch serve, capable backhand and willingness to hang in long baseline rallies provided Saturday’s breakthrough.
A year ago, Medvedev went 0-3 in round-robin play at the ATP Finals, while Thiem was the runner-up to Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Whoever wins Sunday on the indoor hard court will be the tournament’s sixth different champion over the past six years, the longest such stretch since 1974-1979.
Djokovic was trying to match Roger Federer’s mark of six ATP Finals trophies.
In the second set against Djokovic, Thiem’s ace put him ahead 6-5 in the tiebreaker, one point from victory, but Djokovic saved that initial chance with a 204.4kph service winner. Thiem’s next opportunity came at 7-6; he double-faulted.
“I was, like, so tight in my whole body,” Thiem said.
The third was at 9-8, when he pushed a down-the-line forehand wide. At 10-9, Djokovic erased the No. 4 with a forehand that landed right on a line.
That began a three-point run by Djokovic to steal the set, but Thiem regrouped and his 300th career tour-level victory made him only the second man with at least five wins each against the Big Three of Djokovic (5-7 career mark), Federer (5-2) and Nadal (6-9). Andy Murray is the other.
“If you beat these guys, it gives you a huge boost of confidence,” Thiem said.
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Three new COVID-19 cases yesterday hit the Australian Open’s troubled buildup as a backlash grew against international tennis players flown in during a raging pandemic. Two of the new cases were players, state health officials said, taking the total infections to seven since more than 1,000 people arrived in largely COVID-19-free Australia on charter flights last week. The Victoria Department of Health and Human Services said that the two players and a third person associated with the tournament — a woman in her 20s, and two men in their 30s — had returned positive results. The year’s first Grand Slam, delayed three weeks,