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Ricky’s Preview And Pick For The 2019 Nitto ATP Tennis Final: Dominic Thiem vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas

By Ricky Dimon

A season mostly dominated by the top two players in the world who are well into their 30s will end with a member of the “Next” generation facing a member of…well…no generation in the final match.

With Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic exiting the Nitto ATP Finals during round-robin action before Roger Federer lost in the semis, it will be Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem battling for the year-end championship title on Sunday.

Neither Tsitsipas nor Thiem was responsible for Nadal’s early exit, but they both played a part in sending Djokovic and Federer packing. Thiem upset Federer 7-5, 7-5 in Group B and then won a 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(5) thriller against Djokovic–who was eventually eliminated by Federer in the final round-robin showdown. Tsitsipas booked his spot on championship Sunday by beating Federer 6-3, 6-4 in the SFs.

Thus the stage–and a surprising one, at that–is set for a seventh career contest between two players on the short list of contenders to become the next first-time Grand Slam champion. Thiem leads the head-to-head series 4-2, including 3-1 on hard courts and 1-0 in 2019. They collided earlier this fall in the Beijing final, with the Austrian triumphing 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Amazingly enough, a victory in that match would have given Tsitsipas his first-ever title at anything more than 250-point event. His three winners’ trophies have come from Stockholm (2018), Marseille (2019), and Estoril (2019). That is not to say he has underwhelmed on big stages by any means. Tsitsipas reached the semifinals of the Australian Open this season and he owns a combined five wins over the Big 3 in nine chances. Prior to his Saturday upset of Federer, the 21-year-old went 2-1 in Group A with wins over Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev and a three-set loss to Nadal.

Having already clinched Group A by beating Federer and Djokovic in success, Thiem lost a relatively meaningless match to Matteo Berrettini. The fifth-ranked Austrian rebounded to topple Zverev–the defending champion–via a 7-5, 6-3 scoreline on Saturday night. With that Thiem moved to within one win of fourth hard-court title in 2019, and the first three all came at no less than the 500-point level.

“I didn’t feel that great indoors before (this fall),” commented Thiem, who was making his first semifinal appearance inside the O2 Arena in his fourth appearance. “I didn’t have that great success at this tournament the three previous years. And now I’m in the finals. It means so much to me….”

Now it is not Federer but rather an opponent five years his junior who stands in the 26-year-old’s way of his biggest-ever title.

“The first time I met him (was at the 2016 ATP Finals) as a hitting partner,” Thiem said of Tsitsipas. “I saw that he’s playing great, but I didn’t put so much attention on it because other things to focus on. And then he came on tour and we played our first match last year in Doha, like two years ago almost, and there I saw and I also felt his amazing potential…. Well, he really deserves it. He’s a good person. He’s a very good player with a very attractive style to watch.”

“Dominic has inspired me a lot to be a better version of myself when I’m out on the court,” Tsitsipas explained. “I see a lot of things that he does on the court and I try to do the same…. Dominic has always been someone that I looked up to and wanted to…wanted always to play with the same intensity and the same will that he puts in the court. He puts a lot of effort and a lot of…I would just describe him as an intense player.”

Perhaps the main similarity between these two players is their one-handed backhands, which will be especially crucial on Sunday. Both have more reliable forehands, but Tsitsipas caught fire with his one-hander in the second set against Federer. The Greek’s entire all-court game has been clicking this week and his willingness to charge the net has also been effective on this relatively fast surface. Thiem has been more willing than usual to do the same, but his level that was on display against Federer and Djokovic in the first two matches has dipped ever so slightly.

Although Tsitsipas has never been the last man standing at anything bigger than a 250, there is no denying his love for the big stage. Sunday in London, of course, is his biggest yet.

Pick: Tsitsipas in 3

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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