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Thiem Stuns Djokovic At Nitto ATP Tennis Finals, Sends Serb To Elimination Match Against Roger Federer

By Ricky Dimon

Either Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer will be eliminated from the Nitto ATP Finals during round-robin competition.

Normally that would be the big story from London, but for now the story is Dominic Thiem.

Thiem turned in a brilliant performance on Tuesday night, upsetting Djokovic 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(5) to send the world No. 2 into a surprising winner-advance-loser-go-home showdown against Federer. The Austrian fired 51 winners–32 off the forehand side–to prevail in two hours and 47 minutes and book a semifinal spot inside the O2 Arena for the first time in his career.

Thiem’s stunning display left Djokovic borderline dumbfounded, but certainly not short of praise.

“I thought he deserved to win,” the Serb said. “He just played very courageous tennis and just smacking the ball. He went for broke. I mean, the entire match he played same way he played the last point. I have to put my hat down and congratulate him, because he just played a great match….

I don’t think I have experienced too many matches like this where my opponent just goes for every single shot. I mean, he was unbelievable. In some stages it was just incredible that he was just literally smacking the ball as hard as he can and he was going in. His level was super high. This today was unbelievable. As I said, he was taking every opportunity to smack the ball as hard as he can….

It was amazing. I have played him before, I know his game, but what he did tonight was just out of ordinary. I know that he can play in a high level, but tonight was just phenomenal.”

That’s not to say it was perfect. Thiem committed 44 unforced errors, by no means an alarming number given his incredibly aggressive tactics while facing a defender of Djokovic’s caliber. What almost cost the underdog more than the errors was twice giving back a break in the third set, including at 6-5.

Having failed to serve out the match, Thiem quickly fell behind 4-1 in the tiebreaker. But an overhead winner off the baseline for 2-4 kept the 26-year-old alive and began a string of five consecutive points won en route to a 6-4 lead. Djokovic fought off the first match point on his opponent’s serve before Thiem converted his second chance by inducing a forehand error in the net at the end of of an extended rally.

“Probably it was maybe the best match I ever played,” Thiem commented. “It was a real classic; (an) epic match which will happen from time to time at these big tournaments. 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. Well, there it’s, I think, 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. But I’m really happy and proud, because as I said before it was probably the best match I ever played.

“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 (on Sunday), and I did it also today. 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 was hitting really, really hard. Well, 51 winners against him is a great number.”

With wins over the two all-time greats, Thiem has mathematically clinched victory in Group B. Both Djokovic and Federer have 1-1 records and will go head-to-head on Thursday for a place in the semifinals. Matteo Berrettini has been eliminated following losses to Djokovic and Federer.

Djokovic vs. Federer will be the big story over the coming days. For now, though, it’s all about Thiem. It’s a milestone achievement beating Federer and Djokovic in back-to-back matches to reach the semis. But now it’s time to make loftier goals.

“I’m super happy and proud that I reached the semifinals for the first time,” Thiem concluded. “It was a big goal, but of course it’s not enough now.”

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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