London, Nov 17 (efe-epa).- Dominic Thiem held off Rafael Nadal 7-6 (9-7), 7-6 (7-4) in a high-quality contest here Tuesday in the round-robin stage of the ATP Finals and then later booked a spot in the tournament’s semifinals when Stefanos Tsitsipas edged Andrey Rublev.
In what was one of the best indoor matches of his career, last year’s runner-up (to Tsitsipas) at this elite, eight-man, year-end event had an answer every time the Spanish great appeared to seize the momentum at the O2 Arena.
The Austrian world No. 3 first erased two set points before capturing the opening set in a tiebreaker by a razor-thin margin and then came from a service break down in the second set en route to clinching victory in another breaker.
The key to Thiem’s win was a riveting first set in which the level from both players was as high as they had shown in any of their previous 14 head-to-head matches.
Nadal and Thiem both were in full control of their service games early on, with neither player facing a single break point through the first 12 games.
The second-ranked Nadal then appeared to have the set in his pocket when he jumped ahead 5-2 with two mini-breaks in the tiebreaker, but the big-hitting Austrian got back to 5-5 with a massive inside-out forehand and a backhand down-the-line winner.
Although he handed Nadal one set point with a double fault at 5-5 and faced another when trailing 6-7, Thiem’s baseline play was too strong in the end as he clinched the high-quality opener in an hour and 12 minutes with one last inside-out forehand winner.
The dominance by the servers continued at the start of the second set, with both players recording three more consecutive service holds.
Finally, Nadal struck first in the seventh game when he anticipated a Thiem inside-out forehand and struck a remarkable down-the-line forehand into the open court to grab a 4-3 lead.
But the 20-time Grand Slam champion was unable to consolidate that service break, immediately dropping his own serve for the first time in the following game after feeling the sting of another Thiem inside-out forehand winner on break point.
The Austrian then seemed to have the match in hand when he had three match points with Nadal serving down 4-5, 0-40, but the Spaniard came up with a series of outstanding points to stay alive and finally clinched the game with a point in which he hit a between-the-legs lob and then a backhand passing shot winner.
Thiem’s firepower proved too much in the end, however, as he won four of the last five points in the tiebreaker thanks to a pair of backhand winners and yet another winner off the forehand side.
“Indoors and (on) hard courts, it was probably one of the better matches I have ever played,” the 2020 US Open champion was quoted as saying afterward on the ATP Tour’s website. “It came very close to last year’s match against (world No. 1) Novak (Djokovic) here. (That was) also (a) second group match, which is probably the best three-setter I have ever played. Today came very close to that match and now the goal is to enjoy this victory and to maintain that level until Thursday.”
The Austrian now has two wins and no losses in Group London 2020, while Nadal and Greek world No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas – both of whom have one win and one loss – will square off on Thursday for their group’s second semifinal berth.
The world No. 3 also secured a place in the semifinals late Tuesday, when Tsitisipas edged Rublev, the Russian world No. 8, by the score of 6-1, 4-6, 7-6 (8-6).
Thiem still has one final round-robin match to play against Rublev, who after losses to Nadal and Tsitsipas has been eliminated from semifinal contention. EFE