Austria’s Dominic Thiem booked a semi-final spot at the ATP Finals with a stunning victory over Novak Djokovic in the standout match of the tournament so far.
The world number five ripped winners all over the 02 Arena’s blue court to rock five-time champion Djokovic on his heels for a 6-7(5) 6-3 7-6(5) victory and move top of the group.
Djokovic played a full part in an exhilarating contest but could not quite match the firepower of the 26-year-old who has now beaten him in four of their last five meetings.
The Serb seemed to have weathered the storm as he fought back from a break down in the decider and came within milimetres of a match point when Thiem served at 4-5 30-30 and won a Hawkeye challenge after his rasping forehand was shown to have clipped a line.
Thiem then broke the Djokovic serve at 5-5 but could not serve it out and was dragged into a tiebreak.
Djokovic led 4-1 but Thiem would not be denied and reeled off five points in a row to give himself two match points.
Thiem thought he had served an ace at 6-4 but it was called out and this time his Hawkeye challenge was unsuccessful. However, the Austrian made sure at the second time of asking as Djokovic netted after close to three hours on court.
Whatever happens to Thiem against already-eliminated Italian Matteo Berrettini on Thursday, he will progress from the Bjorn Borg group, while Djokovic now faces Roger Federer to decide who will join the Austrian in the weekend’s semi-finals.
As one of the event’s best matches of recent years approached its climax it looked like the younger player had blown his chance, having been cloyed by nerves as he failed to serve out the decider at 6-5 and then fallen 4-1 behind in the tiebreak.
But the tally of winners from Thiem, who has never passed Wimbledon’s fourth round, hit 51 as he roared back to clinch it 7-5.
Now it comes down to the simple equation of whether Federer can avenge this year’s SW19 final loss against the Serbian, who has been in prime form and did little wrong on Tuesday night.
Earlier the 38-year-old Swiss had beaten world No 8 Matteo Berrettini 7-6, 6-3 in what was effectively a must-win match.
On the evidence of this week you would fancy Djokovic to prevail, but he now finds himself under unexpected pressure in the pursuit of Rafael Nadal’s world No 1 slot.
Britain’s Joe Salisbury and American partner Rajeev Ram are in a similar position to the more illustrious Federer and Djokovic after recovering from their loss on the opening day to keep themselves in the hunt for a place on Saturday.
Needing a win to realistically keep themselves alive, the debutants came back to defeat Ivan Dodig and Filip Polasek 3-6, 6-3, 10-6, in the sudden death ‘champions’ tiebreak used in the doubles competition.
They are now most likely going to need a win on Thursday against second seeds Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Brazilian Marcelo Melo to sustain a home presence into the last couple of days.