Thiem and Medvedev fend off legends for shot at ATP Finals glory

 - Alex Sharp

The US Open champion and Rolex Paris Masters winner will look to end their season in style with silverware on Sunday.

Dominic Thiem won his semifinal against Novak Djokovic at the ATP Finals 2020©Ella Ling/ATP Tour

The ATP Finals will crown a sixth different champion in the last six years on Sunday.

World No.3 Dominic Thiem and world No.4 Daniil Medvedev complete the line-up, having prevailed in two pulsating semi-finals at the O2 Arena.

Is this the shift at the top of men’s tennis which has been spoken about persistently for the past several seasons? Both Thiem and Medvedev have navigated past the ‘Big Three’ duo of Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in east London this week.

Back-to-back finals

What a way for US Open champion Thiem to chalk up his 300th career win on Saturday. The 27-year-old posted 7-5, 6-7(10), 7-6(5) against world No.1 Djokovic to make it back-to-back finals at the season finale.

Into the night session and Nadal, still without the elusive ATP Finals trophy, served for the match at 5-4 in the second set. However, Medvedev simply wouldn’t be denied.

Rafael Nadal serving during his ATP Finals 2020 semifinal©Ella Ling/ATP Tour

"I for sure can cause him some troubles“

42 winners and an astute tactical change catapulted the Russian to a 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 triumph over the reigning Roland-Garros champion.

“It's great that we managed to beat two of the biggest players in the history of sport, except Roger also there. I think it's super for tennis. We are starting to get to take our marks,” stated Medvedev.

“Dominic won his first slam, playing unbelievable tennis right now. Not gonna be easy. Hopefully I can play good like this. I for sure can cause him some troubles.”

In 2019 at the O2 Arena, Thiem rallied from a 1-4 deficit in the third set tie-break to defeat Djokovic 7-6(5) in the decider and history repeated itself in a true blockbuster.

Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokokovic at the net after their ATP Finals 2020 semifinal©Ella Ling/ATP Tour

“He deserved it“

This time round the 27-year-old relinquished four match points in a rollercoaster second set breaker, playing “so tight and nervous,” until a captivating crescendo.

“What he did from 0-4 in the third-set tie-breaker was just unreal. I don't think I played bad. Actually, I made all of my first serves. He just crushed the ball,” claimed year-end No.1 Djokovic.

“Everything went in from both corners, and he played couple of very short slices, angles. What can you do? I was in a driver's position at 4-Love. I thought I was very close to win it, he just took it away from me. He deserved it, because he just went for it and everything worked.”

Dominic Thiem's celebration after his win in the ATP Finals 2020 semifinal©Ella Ling/ATP Tour

Astonishing consistency

Thiem has been doing his homework, in particular observing 17-time major winner Djokovic in decisive moments of matches.

“I took him as an example, because he has won so many important tie-breaks in his career. I have the feeling that when he's going into the tie-breaker, he just refuses to miss. That's what I tried to do as well, especially from the restart of the tour,” revealed the US Open champion.

“I tried to do that and it works out super well. But still you always need a little bit of luck in the tie-break against any opponent, and lately the luck is definitely on my side.”

Thiem’s astonishing consistency is proven in becoming just the second player to have clinched five victories over each of the ‘Big three,’ joining Andy Murray in illustrious company.

In fact, since the start of 2019, the world No.3 has a winning record against the legendary triumvirate; 3-2 versus Djokovic, 3-1 facing Nadal and 3-0 over Federer.

Simply put, Thiem is relishing the battle to dethrone this trio of tennis royalty, embracing the enormity of the physical and mental challenge presented. That sentiment is also evoked by Medvedev.

Adapting his tactics

Rewind to last season at the O2 Arena and the 24-year-old lost all three round robin encounters on ATP Finals debut.

The most painful was against Nadal, surrendering a 5-1 and match point lead in the third set. This time a tenacious Medvedev prevented the Spaniard serving out a ticket into the final.

In the third set shootout, the Russian got better and better, pinging winners freely from any angle, reading Nadal’s every move and cunningly adapting his tactics.

“I felt like I was doing great shots, but there were no links in my game and that is why I was losing,” reflected the world No.4.

His subtle changes caught Nadal off guard. His array of shots nullified the threat of Nadal.

The Russian is going to have to work exceptionally hard once again to cause Thiem “some troubles,” the Austrian swept Medvedev aside in straight sets in the US Open semi-finals.

Daniil Medvedev during his ATP Finals 2020 semifinal©Ella Ling/ATP Tour

"Already a superstar among juniors"

However, let’s recall his undefeated November thus far. Five world-class wins to lift the Rolex Paris Masters provided the platform for success in London.

Alexander Zverev, Djokovic (6-3, 6-3) and Diego Schwartzman all fell to his trickery, just like Nadal.

On Sunday Medvedev will bid to become the first ever ATP Finals champion to take down all three top-ranked players en route to the title.

Thiem might just have something to say about that, just like he did at a junior tournament in Umag, Croatia, back in 2011.

“I was telling to my friends, because he was already a superstar among juniors, that it would be nice to get a lucky loser or wildcard first round, to try to win, and then to get Dominic. That what's happen,” added Medvedev, recalling his first meeting with Thiem.

“I played Dominic on clay. He destroyed me 2 and 0. I think I maybe made a tweener winner if I'm not mistaken.

“He told me after the match, ‘You're going to have a good future maybe, but you need to be a little bit more calm.’ Because I was going crazy. And I don't know if he remembers this, but it's funny to remember sometimes like this when we are going to play final tomorrow.”

From Umag to east London, it’s time to make their mark.