November 17, 2019
Is it too early to say that Stefanos Tsitsipas is going to be as big a star as Roger Federer?
Right now it feels more than possible. And that, of course, is some statement.
But the tennis talent flowing from Stef’s racquet is now exquisitely terrifying.
Maybe not quite as graceful as Federer. But there is already a beautiful poetry to the Greek’s strokeplay just the same.
To do it under pressure in one of the great finals. Extraordinary. Character added to charisma! A winning blend for star quality.
Tsitsipas said: ‘This final was truly magnificent and congratulations to Dominic for an amazing season.
‘It has been a rollercoaster and feels amazing. This tournament was just unbelievable and you made it so, so emotional. I have never seen so much support, ever. I owe it all to you.’
True grit, versatility, surefire geometry and sheer enjoyment of what he does. All these qualities brought this 6-7 (6-8), 6-2, 7-6 (7-4) victory to a deserving young winner.
The immensity of Thiem’s achievement in staying with Tsitsipas for so long while suffering from a heavy cold shouldn’t be underestimated.
Thiem admitted: ‘It was an unbelievable match and we are playing the most brutal sport existing, as we just witnessed. I hope we play some more great finals.’
Domi’s hold at the start of the final set was nothing short of epic. What a mesmerising first game! But Tsitsipas was still in the zone and just broke next time.
Still, Thiem refused to crumble, as he had done temporarily in the second. This time it mattered too much. He summoned the willpower and energy to break back before it was too late.
Something of Rafael Nadal’s fighting spirit has rubbed off on Thiem after their two French Open finals. And yet he couldn’t quite get over the line.
Roger Federer said Tsitsipas was ‘tough as nails.’ He wasn’t wrong.
To come back so quickly and emphatically from the significant blow of an early tie-break reverse was particularly impressive.
This isn’t the willowy, temperamental Stefanos Tsitsipas we knew and still loved even a year ago.
We already sensed he was a superstar-in-the-making and said so. Stefanos is naturally charismatic. But there are noticeable changes.
It is now a virtual certainty that Stef will turn into a true tennis great.
Tsitsipas is much stronger physically and mentally. He is fitter. He moves better. His ball-toss is more compact.
It is extraordinary to think that just three years ago, the underdog was Thiem’s hitting partner.
And in October, Thiem recovered from a set down in China to beat his friend in the Beijing Open.
Neither of these memories dented the 21-year-old’s confidence one little bit.
Stef’s rate of improvement, week on week, is frightening.
Once more, as in the Far East, the Austrian came under fearsome early pressure.
Some thunderous hitting from Tsitsipas brought him a break-point to go 3-1 ahead in the first. Thiem held his nerve to recover.
But already Stefanos was looking more powerful and more self-assured. Remarkable, given this was his first ATP Finals and the most important match of his career.
Thiem was relying on solid defence and cool nerve to stay in the fight at this stage.
If he could weather the storm and find a weakness he could go on the offensive.
In the seventh game it was Thiem’s turn to earn some breakpoints. Stefanos saved both by attacking the net and dampening Domi’s hopes with crushing volleys.
Thiem had to rescue the very next game from 15-40 to keep the match on serve at 4-4. Who would crack first?
No one until the tie-break, when someone always must. Thiem stepped up the aggression and ruthlessness just when it was needed. He led 3-0 and 5-2.
Back came Tsitsipas to save a set point. But fatally he mis-hit a backhand. And from that moment Thiem wouldn’t be denied this particular breaker.
This was already a fascinating, beautiful final. We hoped Stef wouldn’t crumble. We needn’t have worried.
Hollywood heroes Woody Harrelson and Hugh Grant looked on in awe of these rising stars of the sporting world.
Their on-screen characters have managed a few comebacks in their time. So what Tsitsipas did must have resonated.
You’re always vulnerable after winning a tie-break and Thiem immediately offered up three breakpoints. Tsitsipas pounced on the second opportunity.
He did it again on Domi’s next serve. Suddenly the score was 4-0. This wasn’t anything like the first set.
Now we realised precisely what Roger Federer meant about the Greek’s steely resilience.
In the blink of an eye, the second set was over and we were down to a decider.
We suspected it would be special. As with the rest of this sensational match, we weren’t disappointed.