© Reuters. ATP finals
By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Daniil Medvedev headed the queue of young pretenders as the Russian won the biggest title of his career by beating Dominic Thiem 4-6-7-6 (2-6-4) at the ATP Final Sunday.
Thiem was well on his way to becoming the first Austrian to win the title after his recent US Open triumph, but the relentless Medvedev turned the tide to deal a blow to the new generation that wanted to shake up the tennis hierarchy.
There was no big celebration as he fired a non-refundable first serve at match point to end the two hours and 42 minutes, which dropped the curtain on 12 memorable years at the O2 Arena before Turin took over to host the tournament.
Fittingly, the London era ended with a Russian winner after Nikolay Davydenko won the title in 2009.
Unfortunately for an event that drew 2.8 million fans to the Thames-Side-Arena over the years, the final, a vintage edition, was held in a silent arena due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the millions watching on TV will appreciate the skills of Medvedev, who became the fourth player in ATP history to beat the top three players in the world in the same tournament.
He joins David Nalbandian (Madrid 2007), Novak Djokovic (Montreal 2007) and Boris Becker (Stockholm 1994).
"It's amazing," Medvedev, who earned $ 1.56 million as the undefeated champion, told reporters. "I beat Novak (in the group), Rafa in the semi-finals and Dominic, who are currently the best tennis players. That shows what I'm capable of."
Medvedev's imaginative play, a mixture of sledgehammer power, cracked angles and illegible serve, turned out to be beyond Djokovic in the group stage and second-placed Rafael Nadal in the semifinals on Saturday.
The 27-year-old Thiem seemed to have mastered it, but was ultimately overwhelmed.
"I think Dominic was a little tired in the third set and it's difficult to get him tired in a three-set match," said Medvedev.
His triumph came a year after losing three times on his debut. The only other player to have made such a drastic turnaround is Djokovic in 2008.
After such a hot streak, including conquering the Paris Masters this month, the Muscovite suffered a slump that came in the first set when he threw away a 40-0 lead on 2-2 serve and Thiem took a break with one Double pack. Error.
Putting the first set in his pocket proved sufficient for Thiem, and he opted for the quick kill in the second when Medvedev's normally rock-hard serve and forehand swayed.
The Russian stayed tough, however, saving breakpoints at 2-2 and 3-3 and looking ominous when the tiebreak hit.
Thiem led 2-0, but Medvedev picked up seven points in a row to ensure London's farewell would go over the distance.
Thiem, who had also beaten Nadal and Djokovic this week, had spent two more hours on the pitch than Medvedev to reach the final, and his silky game was starting to erode.
Medvedev pursued him with his strength and accuracy, and the Russian secured the decisive serve 2-2 with a stealth approach and a volley.
Thiem stepped in but Medvedev, number four in the world, never looked like he was going to lose his lead when he became the fifth consecutive title winner.
Medvedev's colleagues, Alexander Zverev (23) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (22), won the last two titles here, but neither of them won a Grand Slam.
Medvedev will step in in 2021 as the man most likely to make this breakthrough for the much-vaunted next generation.
"Exciting times are ahead for tennis," said Thiem about the new avant-garde. "Super important for sport in general."