November 17, 2019
Dominic Thiem will be fancied by many today to tame the flamboyant Stefanos Tsitsipas in the ATP Final.
The Austrian has never reached this stage of the year-end tournament before.
But he knows what it is like to be in a Grand Slam final.
Admittedly he has lost two French Open showpieces to the great Rafael Nadal. But that was no disgrace against the King of Clay.
And Thiem must have learnt from those experiences. By now he will have a good sense of what it might take to land a huge title by coping with the big-time pressure.
Tsitsipas, in sharp contrast, has never played a match of this magnitude. We will see if he is able to cope with the occasion and remember what got him there.
Most people expected Roget Federer to be gracing the big stage at the 02 Arena on Sunday. But he couldn’t maintain his own level against the 21-year-old Greek.
After an immaculate performance against Novak Djokovic, Federer could hardly play a big point right in his semi-final.
The contrast was hard to fathom – even taking into account Roger’s age.
One can only assume that Federer hit such an emotional high when he beat Novak that he simply wasn’t ready to find that level of intensity again so soon.
Roger managed to convert just one of twelve break points in his 6-3, 6-4 defeat to Stefanos.
Interestingly, the Swiss master is only 90th on the all-time list for making breakpoints count over his long career.
But we should give massive credit to Tsitsipas for serving his way out of trouble so often during their tense semi-final.
And although it took him six set points before he finally seized a chance to take the opener, there could be no doubt that Stefanos was playing better than Federer.
As Roger pointed out himself, every time he fought hard to get back into the match, he lost his way once more.
Seventeen unforced errors on his forehand side and 26 in all told the story of his elimination.
But this is a tough tournament for any top player at the end of a gruelling season – let alone a 38-year-old.
And we feel confident that the evergreen Federer will be ready to amaze us all again early next year after he has recharged his batteries.
As for the reigning champion Alexander Zverev, he still needs to find even greater psychological strength.
The fragility of his confidence and nerve were highlighted once more when it mattered.
A double fault to sacrifice the first set 7-5 didn’t do justice to his strong serving up to that point.
But as soon as Zverev loses his cool and starts throwing his racquet, you know the writing is on the wall.
Thiem took the second set 6-3 and booked himself a place in the final. One that he thoroughly deserves.
It has still been another great tournament for Zverev. He loves London and will want to go deep at Wimbledon 2020 too.
But now it is down to fellow youngster Stefanos Tsitsipas to see if another flamboyant star among the next generation can win this highly entertaining tournament.
Thiem starts as favourite, despite suffering from a heavy cold over the last few days. He seems to be nearing his tennis peak at the age of 26.
Formerly a clay-court specialist, Thiem is no longer someone you can rule out on any surface.
He has beaten some of the game’s biggest names in London. Now he wants that ATP title as a fitting reward for all his efforts.
But there is no shortage of experts who believe Tsitsipas has a big-match mentality to suit the occasion. So who will prevail?
We will learn plenty about the character of both men this evening.