The last three matches of the strangest Open Era season to date, made sense in terms who participated in them – those who deserved it the most. For the first time since 2004 the four highest ranked players reached the Masters semifinals, and there’s no doubt they were the best in the crazy Covid-19 season because they won all six most important events (out of standard 13) leading to the season finale: Djokovic won Australian Open (and two Masters 1K titles), Thiem won US Open, Nadal won Roland Garros, and Medvedev won Paris-Bercy. Given the past two years, it seems that Thiem & Medvedev are the biggest threats for the legends Djokovic & Nadal. Admittedly Medvedev has never won a five-set match yet (!), but he’s such a good tactician, and his physical preparation is outstanding, thus he must be considered as a potential new Grand Slam champion next year.
Almost a repeat of Medvedev’s semifinal match against Nadal. The scoreline looks almost the same, the progress was familiar too. Medvedev began the final running around his backhand, something I had not seen much from him in his previous London matches. This tactics didn’t pay off, Thiem got the only break of the set at 2-all even though the Russian led 40/0 in that game. Medvedev had changed his tactics after the opener against Nadal, and against Thiem he did the same. The Russian came back to his standard patience from the baseline keeping the ball with cross-court backhands (forcing the Austrian to play much more backhand slices than in the previous matches) and began applying serve-and-volley tactics at times. A pivotal moment of the final came at 3-all in the 2nd set when Medvedev attacked the net behind his second serve (just 133 kph) and played a decent stop-volley, Thiem (running forwards) decided to play a FH pusher instead of hitting the ball with top-spin (it wasn’t very difficult because the ball was at the level of his knees & he didn’t need to change the grip – he’d returned with FH), he played it wide… Nonetheless, he led 2:0 in the tie-break when missed another FH passing-shot and it initiated a 9-point streak for the Russian, who broke in the decider to lead 3:2 and served out the championship without any troubles. Medvedev finishes the season with two big titles, a reminiscence of his terrific form in Autumn ’19 when he played six finals in a row, winning three of them. “I always said before this tournament that it would be an amazing story if, here in London, where the tournament was for  years, that the first champion would be Russian and the last champion would be Russian, too,” Medvedev said during the trophy ceremony. “A lot of thanks to Nikolay Davydenko for being an inspiration for many kids [like] me [by] winning here. I hope to continue doing his job.” The longest ‘best of three’ final in the tournament history. Stats of the match.
Daniil Medvedev d. Rafael Nadal 3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3 [2:36 h]
Their fourth meeting, Nadal led 3:0 so despite Medvedev’s great form recently, the Spaniard seemed to be very self-confident. He saved three break points in the 3rd game of the match and easily won three games from 3-all. In the 2nd set Medvedev began serving faster, it changed the pace of the match and made the things quite complicated because after Medvedev’s easy holds, service games of Nadal produced quite demanding rallies. Nadal saved a break point at 1:4 and was serving for his place in the final at 5:4 – Medvedev broke back at ‘love’. Just like then, in the tie-break Nadal wasn’t closer than four points away from victory (the most important point of TB happened at 1-all when Medvedev won a 26-stroke rally with a forehand winner being pushed to defense a couple of times). In the 3rd set the Spaniard led 3:2* (deuce) when his legs stopped perfectly working, he run out of steam while the ten years younger Medvedev was still fresh and convincingly took the last four games, nevertheless there were ‘deuces’ in Nadal’s last two service games. “I felt really strange until 5:4 for him in the second set, when he was serving for the match,” Medvedev said in an on-court interview. “It felt like I was doing great shots but there was no link in my game and that was why I was losing. He was better in the important moments, I couldn’t return in the important moments, I couldn’t make a good shot in the important moments.” Stats of the match.
Average serve speed: Medvedev 201/161 kph, Nadal 190/159 kph… Total points: 105-94
Dominic Thiem d. Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-7(10), 7-6(5) [2:54 h]
# Unbelievable match, actually the tightest “best of three” in the 50-year-old history of the event! Thiem went through the match unbroken (saved break points in two games of the 2nd set), he broke just once at 5-all in the opener. In the preceding game, Djokovic was two points away from the set at 5:4* (deuce) when Thiem hit fast ‘down the T’ serve. The Austrian squandered four – two on serve – match points in the 2nd set tie-break: 6:5 (service winner), *7:6 (double fault), *9:8 (FH long), 10:9 (FH winner on the line). Despite losing such a dramatic set, Thiem stayed cool and firmly held the opening game of the decider with no signs of frustration. In the deciding tie-break, Djokovic built an insurmountable 4:0* advantage, but just like one year ago on the same court, Thiem managed to produce a miraculous comeback, even better than in 2019 when he trailed *1:4 in the deciding tie-break before winning 6-7, 6-3, 7-6… At 0:4 he fired an ace down the T, followed by a FH winner. A point at 4:2 was perhaps crucial – there was a long rally, and Djokovic decided to attack the net with BH slice… he netted. Thiem won six points in a row in total, Djokovic fought off the fifth MP with an ace, but on the sixth occasion, Thiem placed his fast serve out-wide, and forced the running Djokovic to send the ball long. Thiem covered his faced in hands a moment after winning the match. “It was for sure a mental battle. I got so tight in the second-set tie-break because to play these legends is always going to be something special,” said Thiem in an on-court interview. “Playing for the final here at the Nitto ATP Finals is also something very special and I thought that after my first big title in New York, maybe I’m going to be a little bit more calm, but that was a mistake, I guess. I was just as tight and as nervous as before. It was so much on the edge that match, like every single match here. The best players in the world are facing off. So I’m just incredibly happy to be through and just [will] try to get ready for tomorrow.” It’s Thiem’s 300th main-level match won. Djokovic finished the season with an amazing 15-2 record in tie-breaks (.882)
Average serve speed: Thiem 196/161 kph, Djokovic 193/148 kph… Total points: 119-115
# Comparison of the tightest (38-game) semifinals in Masters history: 1996: Sampras d. Ivanisevic 6-7, 7-6, 7-5… 2:00 hours… Points: 110-100… 3 pts away (breaks: 1-0) 2016: Murray d. Raonic 5-7, 7-6, 7-6… 3:38 hours… Points: 138-136… 1 m.p. (breaks: 3-4) 2020: Thiem d. Djokovic 7-5, 6-7, 7-6… 2:54 hours… Points: 119-115… 3 pts away (breaks: 1-0)