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 within touching distance of the semi-finals.
Victory for Stefanos Tsitsipas over Andrey Rublev on Tuesday evening would send Thiem through, before his final group match against the Russian debutant on Thursday.
“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
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.
A match of the highest quality 👏
Nadal: 25 winners, 16 errors
Thiem: 37 winners, 22 errors#NittoATPFinals
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.
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.
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.
Nitto ATP Finals – Tuesday Evening Session
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.
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