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Thiem May Have Surpassed Djokovic Today

Today’s Nitto ATP Finals semi showdown between Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic may have altered the balance of power in professional tennis.

Both players played with a fierce intensity and determination that suggested the stakes of the match were far more than just the final tomorrow and the prize money awaiting the winner.

No, this match was much more. This was about a young ambitious prince trying to take the throne of the king of tennis.

Thiem and Djokovic have played five straight super tight classics…

2020 Nitto ATP Finals SF Thiem 75 67 (20) 76 (5)

2020 Australian Open F Novak 64 46 26 63 64

2019 Nitto ATP FInals RR Thiem 67 (5) 63 76 (5)

2019 Roland Garros SF Thiem 62 36 75 57 75

2019 Madrid SF Novak 76 (2) 76 (4)

Thiem and Djokovic seemed to be trying to send a message to each other…”You are great yes, I very much respect your abilities and style, but I am better.”

Thiem won the first set 75 and the second set went to the wire. Djokovic missed an offensive strike by an inch to lose the first mini break and then did something I never saw him to do before – he started flipping his Head Speed Pro racquet in his hand waiting to return serve. About ten times he did it. When a player changes his normal behaviors on court, you know it’s a sign that this is am unusual or important moment. Thiem ended up having four match points but lost the second set in a marathon tiebreaker. Djokovic displayed his tennis genius and extraordinary competitive spirit to survive the second. But there was another set of work ahead.

The third set also went down the wire also. At the end of the third set on a key point, Djokovic missed a return that skidded off the line and he suddenly unleashed one of his crazed elongated screams in the Serbian language, though he had been stoic for the entire match before that moment. The stress and tension were enormous. Djokovic was desperate to subdue Thiem and tag him with a crushing loss to stymie his ambitions and hopes of taking over the ATP in 2021.

Thiem won the US Open in September and clearly wants more. Thiem knows he deserves more and the tennis world is his oyster now. Thiem is at the height of his powers now. He defeated Nadal in Round Robin play and his game has never been better, everything is working, big power off both wings, patience and variety when needed, excellent movement and a bundle of free points from pinpoint serving. It’s all there, Thiem is in position to be no. 1 next year and win multiple majors.

Djokovic knows Thiem is a huge threat and potential roadblock to 20 majors for his future years and today was a chance to put him down and damage his spirits, crack fissures in his drive and his self belief. Djokovic is wounded right now, though he is world no. 1 he has lost confidence this year by failing at US Open to Carreno Busta and the miserable straight set beatdown from Nadal in the Roland Garros final. Djokovic clearly wanted to win this Nitto ATP finals to restore his aura, and to prove to his peers and himself that he can win an important event. Djokovic’s last big match win was the AO final in five sets vs Thiem way back in January. That’s ancient history. The sport moves fast, a lot of things can change in six or twelve months.

So Djokovic was highly motivated and was performing his finest tennis today and advanced to a seemingly insurmoutable 4-0 lead in the third set tiebreaker. But Thiem suddenly managed to raise his level and won seven of the last eight points and stunningly won the match with a 7-5 tiebreaker victory.

It was an epic, unforgettable display of power tennis. Thiem, when he needed it most, began blasting his best shots of the match and Djokovic had no answers and like a champion boxer ahead on scorecards, he got stunned by a combination of shots that left him dazed and confused and finally knocked out for the ten count.

Tennis observers know this was not just a lucky hot streak at the right moment by the 27 year old Austrian. This could have been the breakout moment where a world no. 3 player took the important first psychological steps to build the belief that he can and should be world no. 1 next season.

Though this was a devastating loss for Djokovic, he accepted it with grace and respect. ”The difference was that when you hit full power and everything goes in, it just goes in. When you hit full power, sometimes it goes out. So simple. He did everything right from 0-4 [in the third-set tie-break],” said Djokovic. “I have to put my hat down and say, congratulations. I actually didn’t play bad any point after 4-0. I thought [in] every point, I was in it. I did hit the ball, I was not pushing it, but he just smashed it and he just played great.”

Yes, Thiem showed more firepower, more courage and more precision at the most important juncture of the match and that superiority displayed today may very well carry over into their future matches in 2021 and beyond.

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2 comments

  • Zakaria Ait Talbi · November 23, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    It is always great to see Novak Djokovic losing and I hope that when Roger Federer retires Dominik Thiem will take his position

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 23, 2020 at 3:57 pm

    Zakaria, Thiem is a shoe in for no. 1. Judging by the way he totally exploded in that third set TB vs Djokovic, if he keeps doing that, and improving, he will be very tough to beat and he could even dominate. Djokovic, to his credit, made no excuses and even admitted that Thiem “took it from me.” He didn’t make any excuses about lucky shots or junior shots, Djokovic flat out said Thiem was better, tougher and stronger when it counted most and it stunned him. Somtimes top players try to “throw shade” when a rival outdoes them.

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