Great Britain

Dominic Thiem upsets Roger Federer in straight sets in ATP Finals

Novak Djokovic does not expect Roger Federer to be scarred by the trauma of losing to him in the longest Wimbledon final of them all when they meet for the 49th time in London this week. Early evidence suggests that is a charitable assessment.

After fifth-ranked Dominic Thiem beat Federer 7-5, 7-5 in the first round of the ATP Tour Finals on Sunday night, the 38-year-old Swiss will view his rematch with Djokovic on Thursday as he might an alp without skis. It was Thiem’s third win this year over Federer.

After his fifth defeat in seven matches against the Austrian, Federer said: “He played a tough first-round performance today, and my game was probably just not good enough.” Of his next match, against Berrettini , he added: “It’s a normal tournament from here on forward. Not allowed to lose any more. With his serve, with what he can do, obviously he’s dangerous. I’ve got to play better than today.”

Meanwhile Djokovic, the world No2, is poised to replace Rafael Nadal at the top of the rankings, and earlier took only 62 minutes to beat the young Italian, Matteo Berrettini, 6-2, 6-1. He is in awesome form.

Djokovic and Federer spent nearly five hours together on Centre Court on the last Sunday of the championships in mid-July. It was a final Federer could have won. Federer said when he arrived in London on Friday he had long come to terms with that defeat. Selecting his words carefully, Djokovic was inclined to agree with him.

“I will not expect it, to be honest,” he said of a Federer meltdown, “because Roger’s experience and mental strength have been almost unprecedented. His ability to recover after big losses and cope with the pressure in tough moments on the court have been phenomenal over the years.

“Regardless of the age or surface or whatever it is, when I play Roger, I know he’s going to deliver his best tennis. Rarely he didn’t deliver his best tennis when we played, and we’ve played many times. So, I don’t think it’s going to create some kind of a mental challenge or obstacle for him.” Then he added: “Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know.”

Djokovic, who leads his career rivalry against Federer 26-22, is 4-2 in their matches here since 2010, three times in finals, one of them a walkover, in 2014. Most were close. All were entertaining. With Nadal concerned about an abdominal injury, Djokovic is a firm favourite to finish the season as the best player in the world.

Berrettini, the first Italian to reach the finals, said of Djokovic: “He was returning unbelievable. We were playing flat, fast. He was moving better than me, playing better than me. So it was tough. I was nervous, but not in a bad way. Normally, if I step on court and I don’t feel nervous, something is wrong. I have to feel nervous to play my best tennis.”

Djokovic arrived in London glowing with self-belief. He did not drop a set in Paris, where he won his 34th Masters title last Sunday by schooling the Canadian Denis Shapovalov in a final that lasted only 65 minutes, and that lifted him to within 640 points of Nadal at the top of the ATP rankings.

Berrettini has risen from 54 in the world when winning a Challenger title in Arizona in March to squeeze into this elite lineup, with his run to the semi-finals of the US Open in September his most notable achievement of the year. But Djokovic broke him five times in a row and finished in cruise control.

Federer and Thiem swapped breaks at the start of their match and, after 28 minutes, they shared the eight games and 80 points on offer. Federer attacked. Thiem, who reached this year’s French Open final, counterpunched. Three weirdly loose ground strokes cost Federer his serve in the 11th game, and Thiem served out the set in 43 minutes.

The second was close until Federer’s adventure undermined him at the end. Thiem broke him to love for 6-5 and served out the match after two deuces, saving two break points as Federer slugged it all the way in an hour and 40 minutes.

Thiem said courtside: “It was a great performance, my first opening win here at the finals. It’s breathtaking to enter this arena. It was a good and close match and it is always special to play against Roger. He is a legend, probably the best player of all time. Luckily I have a really good record against him. The games where I have to serve out are always a struggle. You don’t get any presents from him.”

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