Thiem tests defensive Djokovic in World Tour Finals opener

 

By Ros Satar, at the World Tour Finals, London

  • Novak Djokovic [2] def. Dominic Thiem [8] 6-7(10) 6-0 6-2
  • Defensive in press after being asked about venting his frustration
  • Click on our featured players for stats from TennisAbstract.com
LONDON, ENGLAND – Four-time defending champion Novak Djokovic was tested by newcomer Dominic Thiem in the first of the Singles Round-Robin matches on the first day of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.

 

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Novak Djokovic [2] def. Dominic Thiem [8] 6-7(10) 6-0 6-2

It was always going to be a tough opener for the young Austrian Dominic Thiem against a player who has dominated the surface here in London for the last four years. Yet credit to Thiem – he stuck with Novak Djokovic – fending off an early opportunity by Djokovic to break him in, and indeed earning his own chance to break the World No. 2.

Forcing a tie-break, the newbie swept up a 6-3 lead in the tie-break before the serving yips hit him hard. Double faults saw Thiem’s lead eroded with Djokovic actually wrestling a set point off the first-timer.

Finally the nerves settled enough for Thiem to make good on his shots and to seal the first set, prompting Djokovic to belt a ball towards the vicinity of his own box, earning an unsportsmanlike conduct code violation.

From that point on thought it was business as usual – the come-down for Thiem after winning his first set from Djokovic was brutal to say the least, sweeping past the Austrian in a ‘bagel’ set and breaking early in the third set, and at the end for good measure before serving it out to love.

It was a good start, if a little tetchy from the former World No. 1 who initially was fairly upbeat about his start.

He said: “It felt very good. Even though I lost the first set, I thought I didn’t do too many things wrong. It was just the very high quality of his game that prevailed in the first set.

“Yeah, a thrilling tiebreaker. He was 6-3 up, two double-faults. I had I think only one set point. He just played a good point. I was in the rally, but he just was going for his shots. In the end he managed to win that very long first set.”

He continued: “Of course, when I had the great comeback of saving six, seven set points, then I didn’t manage to win that first set, of course you’re frustrated. On the other hand, you know, I think I managed to kind of compose myself and really gather all my attention and concentration to what was coming up after that. The great start of the second set helped me to regroup.”

But when asked if he was worried whether venting his frustration like that (reminiscent to a racquet smash at Roland Garros that almost hit a lines-judge) might one day cost him dear, the defensiveness that had been evident in his pre-tournament press conference returned with a vengeance.

Pointing out if it was habitual he would have been suspended by now, he vented about being questioned about that release of tension.

“I’m the only player that shows his frustration on the court? That’s what you are saying? It is not an issue for me. It’s not the first time I did it.”

Of course he is not the first player to show his frustrations, or to be tense with a lot on the line this week, but the normally quite affable Djokovic has been unusually terse and a little out of character already, so early in the tournament. Much has been made about his coaching team, with the inclusion of Pepe Imaz in the team, but he has also been joined this week by Boris Becker and Marián Vajda.

Thiem admitted that he had tailed off pretty badly after a great level in the first set.

He said: It was a very good and very intense first set. After that, I lost a little bit of energy, which is required against a guy like Novak to play close and good sets.

I came back obviously. I had the energy. But the beginning of the third set, I was trying again to get that match. He was playing well. I couldn’t quite keep the level up from the first set. Yeah, that’s why I lost in three.”

The crowd may have also been a factor in Djokovic’s frustration. The crowd seemed to want to get behind the underdog Thiem, making his debut, and of course with the round-robin format still has a chance to qualify.

He continued: “The crowd was very nice. It was a really good atmosphere. I mean, 17,000, it’s I think by far the biggest crowd I ever played. I think they are also excited to see some new faces at this tournament. That’s why they cheered a lot for me I guess.”

The Ivan Lendl group will play again on Tuesday.

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