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Thiem Topples Nadal in Two Tiebreakers in What Could be the Best Match of the ATP Tennis Finals In London

Dominic Thiem celebrates his 7-6, 7-6 win over Rafael Nadal in a classic at the ATP Finals in London.

By Ricky Dimon

Dominic Thiem is no stranger to amazing matches inside the O2 Arena, nor is he unfamiliar with epic contests against Rafael Nadal.

That combination made for a predictably thrilling encounter at the Nitto ATP Finals on Tuesday afternoon. It was Thiem who emerged victorious, winning in two sets but needing a pair of tiebreakers over two hours and 25 minutes to prevail 7-6(7), 7-6(4).

The first set featured high-quality tennis right from the start, with grueling rallies, tweeners, huge one-handers by Thiem, and expert volleys by Nadal. About the only thing it didn’t have was a service break–or even a break point–as both players took turns battling out of 0-30 holes with clutch serving.

Four straight mini-breaks kicked off the tiebreaker, all thanks to Nadal. The world No. 2 struck two winners on return points but also double-faulted once and missed a drop-shot when he was serving. Nadal eventually built a 5-2 lead, but Thiem recovered for 5-5 and saved a set point with Nadal serving at 5-6. The Austrian fought off another at 6-7 with an inside-out forehand and went to convert his own set point at 8-7 with another inside-out strike.

A second tiebreaker had to decide set two, although not before plenty of drama. After trading the first two breaks of the day (Nadal struck for 4-3 only to see Thiem hit right back), the reigning U.S. Open champion put the pressure on by seizing a 5-4 lead. Serving to stay in alive, Nadal quickly fell into a triple-match point hole at 0-40. Nonetheless, the 34-year-old dug out of it in impressive fashion and ended up holding for 5-5.

In the ‘breaker, the decisive moment came at 3-3. They traded mini-breaks early and then Thiem earned a 4-3 advantage with a brilliant backhand passing shot. He took care of his next two service points for yet another triple-match point situation at 6-3. Nadal managed to save one more, but on his opponent’s fifth chance at 4-6 he sent a backhand well wide.

“It was a great match from the first to the last point,” Thiem assessed. “I was actually pretty lucky to get the first set; I was down 5-2 in the tiebreaker…. I knew I had a slight advantage after winning the first set, but I had to stay super focused…. I had a feeling that the whole match was a very high level. I’m very happy with the way I served; in the end the served help me out. Maybe it’s the most important stroke in indoor tennis.

“The atmosphere would have been unreal today (with fans), but I hope we put on a good show for people watching on TV.”

When asked if this was one of the best wins of his career, Thiem replied, “I would say so, yeah. I mean, definitely one of the better matches I have played so far in my career. I think it came close to the second group match last year against [Novak Djokovic]. I think we both played great tennis.”

“He played I think an amazing match, and I played well too. So my feeling is not negative,” said Rafael Nadal after suffering a 7-6, 7-6 loss to Dominic Thiem at the ATP Finals in London.

“Just well done to him,” Nadal said. “He played I think an amazing match and I played well, too. So my feeling is not negative. I lost, but I had plenty of chances in the first and then I had break up in the second. Nothing to say, just well done to Dominic. I’m happy with the way I played. 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–for me is much higher.”

Thiem has now defeated Nadal twice in a row, having triumphed 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(6) en route to this year’s Australian Open quarterfinals. They have split their last six meetings at three victories apiece, a stretch that includes a memorable fifth-set tiebreaker win for Nadal at the 2018 U.S. Open.

The 27-year-old is looking to go one step farther in London than he did last fall, when he upset Djokovic in an incredible round-robin match before losing the final to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a third-set tiebreaker. He will mathematically clinch a spot in the semis if Tsitsipas beats Andrey Rublev on Tuesday night.

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.