Defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas’ road to becoming the first repeat champion at the Nitto ATP Finals in half a decade just got a bit steeper after a close defeat to Dominic Thiem in the first match of Group London 2020.
Tsitsipas will likely rue his missed opportunities against Thiem, a rematch of last year’s final in London but with the opposite result: the Greek player converted just one break opportunity in the three he created, including one that would have leveled the third set. Instead, it was Thiem claiming revenge and a 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3 victory after two hours and 17 minutes.
“He dealt with my serve better and took time [away], he stepped back and applied the pressure,” Tsitsipas reflected in his post-match press conference. “He put more pressure on me. Some of the second serves that I had early in the third set… and I think that paid off for him.”
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But if there’s one point that Tsitsipas would probably want a do-over for, it came late in the first set as the pair battled over in a tie-break that came down to the wire.
“That was the silliest thing that ever happened to me,” the Greek player lamented.
Indeed, Tsitsipas had seemed to click into a higher gear as the first set wound to a close, and was almost untouchable on a streak of nine consecutive service points won heading into the tie-break. He hit back-to-back aces to take a commanding 4-1 lead, but the Austrian soon began to close the gap, and against the odds leveled the score at 5-5.
The crucial moment came as Thiem reached set point on the Tsitsipas serve: The Greek player blasted a big serve down the T. At full stretch, Thiem reached the ball with the top of his frame, plopping back a high-bouncing ball that hung invitingly in the air, giving Tsitsipas plenty of time to set up a winning putaway – or to overthink his shot selection.
“I had a ball over the net, and I decided to play a forehand instead of a smash,” Tsitsipas said. “I don’t know what kind of decision that was, but it was very… it was not mature enough, you know?
Tsitsipas could have advanced an extra step or two and crouched to hit a low overhead. Instead, he opted for a high forehand, which he took down the line, straight to a waiting and appreciative Thiem.
“Didn’t take time, just rushed and didn’t take time to think where I wanted to go and I used my strongest shot. He ended up blasting me with a lob, and I was in a defensive position afterwards.”
The Greek player will enjoy a day off before Group London 2020 hits the court again. And instead of lingering on what-could-have-beens, Tsitsipas will have his own shot at Nitto ATP Finals revenge as he gears up to face Rafael Nadal, the only player to defeat him in last year’s run to the season-ending title, and familiar foe Andrey Rublev as group stage action continues.