ATP Finals: First time finalists Tsitsipas, Thiem set up title clash

Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas will face off in the ATP world tour season finale with a chance to win the title for the first time.

Stefanos Tsitsipas is the youngest finalist at the ATP Finals since Juan Martin del Potro in 2009.   -  AP

Dominic Thiem battled past Alexander Zverev in the second semifinal to become the first ever Austrian to make it to the business-end of the ATP World Tour finals. He took one hour and 34 minutes to down Zverev 7-5, 6-3 at the O2 Arena in London on Saturday.

The fifth seed will face his fellow first-time finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, who pipped World No. 3 Roger Federer 6-3, 6-4 in the opening semifinal.

Thiem and Tsitsipas took different routes to the summit clash. The Greek outgunned the Swiss Maestro by controlling the long rallies, not allowing his opponent to play to his strengths. He had done his homework and knew that in order to beat Federer, he had to prevent him from playing his patented serve-and-volley game, and keep the rallies as long as possible.

With 63 percent first serves in and 64 percent and 60 percent win on his first and second serves, Tsitsipas clinched nine of his service games. He had defended 12 break points during his victory against the 38-year-old Federer at the 2019 Australian Open and almost repeated the feat,  saving 11 in the semis.

Tsitsipas had also troubled World no.1 Rafael Nadal before going down in a three-set thriller in the group stage.

On the other hand, World no.5 Thiem looked very cagey in his last-four clash. Though he had only a paltry 59 per cent of first serves and win on second serve, the 26-year-old made the most of Zverev’s weakened ability to convert the half chances. However, Thiem did enjoy an 81 per cent of points on his first serve and also saved four break points.

The Austrian played a solid game from the baseline and exploited the seventh seed German’s weakness at the net,  drawing him forward frequently.

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Dream Debut for Tsitsipas

With the victory over the six-time champion, Tsitsipas became the youngest finalist at the year-ending tournament Juan Martin Del Potro in 2009.

The 21-year-old  lifted the Next Gen ATP Finals Trophy last year and has followed it up by making it to the final of the ATP World Tour Finals on his debut.

The highest-ranked Greek has become only the third player after Grigor Dimitrov, winner in 2017, and David Goffin, runner-up in 2017, to qualify for the final in his maiden appearance at the season-ender.

On Sunday, Tsitsipas will be playing in his ninth ATP final and eyeing his fourth career title, and the third in 2019. The Greek finished runner-up in three tournaments this year and wouldn’t want that count to go up in what will be his biggest final.

After beating Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev in the round-robin stage and battling past Federer in the semis, he heads into the title clash with a 3-1 win record. His solitary loss came on Friday against Rafael Nadal, who ended the year as World No.1 for the fifth time.

Interestingly, Tsitsipas is one of eight players to advance from round-robin action on the first attempt.

Tsitsipas' road to the finals

Match 1: Beat fourth seed Daniil Medvedev 7-6(5), 6-4

Match 2: Beat seventh seed Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-2

Match 3: Lost to first seed Rafael Nadal 7-6(4), 4-6, 5-7

Semifinal: Beat Roger Federer 6-3, 6-4

Fourth time lucky for Dominic Thiem?

The highest-ranked Austrian has had an impressive 2019. Among his 16 ATP titles, five have come this year and he finished second best only once (to Nadal at Roland Garros). The Austrian had failed to make it past the round-robin stage in his past three appearances.

After outstanding results against Federer in the first round-robin match and Novak Djokovic in the second, he blew cold against Matteo Berrettini, who became the first Italian to notch up a win in this tournament.

Though Austria's ATP Cup captain may not have been able to replicate those performances in the semifinal where he looked flat, he will definitely give it his best shot against the Greek.

Thiem's road to the finals

Match 1: Beat Roger Federer 7-5, 7-5

Match 2: Beat Novak Djokovic (5)6-7, 6-3, 7-5(5)

Match 3: Lost to Matteo Berrettini (3)6-7, 3-6

Semifinal: Beat Alexander Zverev 7-5, 6-3

Head to Head

The Austrian leads their head-to-head 4-2.

Thiem defeated the Greek in the Round of 64 at the 2018 French Open and Indian Wells.

He also defeated Tsitsipas at the Doha Open in 2018 before beating him in the final of the Beijing Open 2019 to lift his fourth title of the year. On the other hand, the World No. 6 got the better of Thiem in the Round of 32 at the Rogers Cup and the quarterfinal of the Barcelona Open, both in 2018.

The two have never faced each other in an indoor hard court before, adding to the intrigue in what promises to be a fascinating finale.