Dominic Thiem moved into the semi-finals after Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Andrey Rublev
Dominic Thiem produced a stunning performance to defeat Rafael Nadal 7-6 (9-7) 7-6 (7-4) at the Nitto ATP Finals in London.
After a brilliant contest full of intensity and explosive shot-making, it was the US Open champion Thiem who emerged victorious to move into the semi-finals.
Victory for Stefanos Tsitsipas over Andrey Rublev 6-1 4-6 7-6 (8-6) ensured that Thiem made it through before his final group match against the Russian debutant.
Defending champion Tsitsipas will take on Nadal in a winner-takes-all encounter on Thursday to see who joins the Austrian in the final four with Rublev out of the tournament.
“It was a great match from the first to the last point. I think I was pretty lucky to get the first set. Against Rafa, it’s nice to win the first set obviously, but still, he’s there 100 per cent. I knew then that maybe I had a slight advantage but I had to stay super focused. I’m happy that I got it today.”
Dominic Thiem on an unforgettable match
The Austrian later said: “It’s definitely one of the better matches I’ve played so far in my career. I think it came close to the second group match of last year against Nole (Novak Djokovic). I think we both played great tennis. Very, very small things make the difference.
“He was the little bit better player in that first-set breaker but I still won it and, even though Rafa is 100 per cent from the first to the last point, it’s very, very important to get that first set against him. It’s almost impossible to beat him after losing the first set.
“The second set I think had everything. I played probably the best game of the match to make the rebreak and then another good tie-break. It was a great match which I will remember for a long time.
“I think that today I played a little bit higher level than at the US Open. It was maybe the best match from me since the restart of the tour and that makes me super happy.”
A match of the highest quality 👏
Nadal: 25 winners, 16 errors
Thiem: 37 winners, 22 errors#NittoATPFinals
— ATP Tour (@atptour) November 17, 2020
Both players went into the encounter off the back of victories; Nadal eased past Rublev on Sunday while Thiem was made to work harder in a three-set win over Tsitsipas.
This match was on another level, though, and the only shame was that there weren’t fans inside the O2 Arena to enjoy it.
Nadal and Thiem had met on 14 previous occasions, all but two of them having been played on clay.
The duo’s two matches on hard courts were both crackers; a US Open quarter-final in 2018, which Nadal won on a deciding tie-break, and a clash at the same stage of the Australian Open this year, won by Thiem.
“It has been a great match of tennis decided for a few small details. Just well done to him. He played I think an amazing match, and I played well too. My feeling is not negative. I lost but I had plenty of chances in the first and then I had a break in the second. 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, is much higher.”
Rafael Nadal was left with positive feelings despite defeat
In Australia, the Austrian won all three of his sets through tie-breaks, and the first set inside London’s O2 Arena went the same way.
After 12 pulsating games, there was nothing to separate them as the duo had won exactly the same number of points.
At the start of the tie-break, it looked as if Nadal would come out on top. He led 5-2 with two serves to come, before Thiem won both of those points and continued to rise to the occasion as the pressure mounted.
His ability to stay calm, and deliver vital forehand winners, helped him to claw his way back and secure the set.
Neither Rafael Nadal nor Thiem took a backward step on court inside the O2 Arena
There was no let-up in quality in the second set and the first break of serve finally arrived in the seventh game as Nadal forged ahead.
But Thiem hit straight back, his backhand down the line again proving the key weapon in his arsenal against the great Spaniard.
Nadal’s nerves came to the fore when he served at 4-5. A poor volley and a rare fluffed smash handed Thiem three match points.
However, the second seed saved them all, the second when a drop-volley kissed the top of the net and landed for a winner.
Nadal held firm to force a second tie-break but Thiem’s willingness to go for the big shots and make them earned him more match points, and this time he took one.
Tsitsipas will battle it out with Nadal for a place in the semi-finals after coming through a close scrap against Rublev
Tsitsipas was dejected after losing his opening match to Thiem but reacted in just the right manner, wrapping up the first set after only 19 minutes against Rublev in the evening match.
However, Rublev, making his debut in the tournament, produced a spirited response and had a match point in the deciding tie-break only to double fault. That allowed the Greek back in before grasping his opportunity to progress to a straight shoot-out against Nadal.
Tsitsipas said in his on-court interview: “It was an unbelievable match from both sides. We produced some incredible tennis. The relief at the very end of putting all that effort and all that fight on the court paid off.
“I’m very happy that I showed determination and a willingness to not give up when he had match point. I produced some really good tennis and that helped me take the win.”
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