World No. 3 Dominic Thiem came away with a statement victory in a nail-biting straight-sets clash against Rafael Nadal to top Group London 2020 at the Nitto ATP Finals.
The reigning US Open champion had to save two set points in a marathon 72-minute set opening set, and held his nerve as Nadal saved four match points in the second set. But if Thiem’s level throughout the 7-6(7), 7-6(4) thriller didn’t send enough of a message for the rest of the Nitto ATP Finals field, then his cool self-assessment afterward might have a few players on high alert.
“Honestly, I think that today I played a little bit [of a] higher level than at the US Open,” Thiem told reporters in his post-match press conference. “It was maybe the best match for me since the restart of the Tour, and that makes me super happy.”
It’s a daunting prospect for his Nitto ATP Finals opponents, as Thiem came into the season finale under a cloud of doubts around his form after recently fighting blisters in his home tournament in Vienna and questions about his mentality as he struggled to back up his Grand Slam success.
Now, he sits undefeated at the top of Group London 2020 after starting his campaign in London with another thriller, winning in three sets to take down defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.
“Obviously it was not easy to come back after the US Open and French Open, I was like in an unbelievable emotional state,” Thiem reflected. “And then also the home tournament in Vienna, a little injury… it wasn’t easy but now I’m 100 per cent recovered. I had a great preparation, and I’m super happy with the way I’m playing here.”
“It was a great match which I will remember for a long time,” he added.
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Thiem’s win narrowed his gap with Nadal in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series as he trails 9-6, though he now leads the Spaniard 2-1 on hard courts.
But as much as Thiem would love to linger on 37 winners and six aces against Nadal, there’s one match left to go as he seeks to advance into the semi-finals undefeated, and it’s against the red-hot Andrey Rublev. The Russian has claimed the most recent two victories of their 2-2 FedEx ATP Head2Head series - including a heartbreaker in Vienna to oust him in straight sets at home.
“Indoors and hard courts, [today’s match] was probably one of the better matches I have ever played,” Thiem said. “Now the goal is to enjoy this victory and to maintain that level until Thursday.”