Six-time champion Roger Federer trails Dominic Thiem 2-4 in the head-to-head but has a much better record at the ATP Finals – can he maintain it on Sunday?
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Roger Federer looks to reprise last year’s victory over Dominic Thiem as the six-time champion begins his 2019 ATP Finals campaign on Sunday.
Federer defeated Thiem 6-2, 6-3 during the round-robin stages of last year’s ATP Finals and will count himself as having got off to a dream start in the tournament if he can record a straight-sets win over the Austrian.
Seeded third for the season-ending championship, Federer was always going to have to face either Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic in the group stages; as it happens, he’s landed in Group Bjorn Borg alongside Djokovic, Thiem and first-timer Matteo Berrettini, decidedly the tougher of the two groups. Few are picking Berrettini to make it out of the group but Thiem, despite a poor record at this tournament, should be able to make at least a determined attempt to disrupt the presumed hegemony of Djokovic and Federer, who between them have 11 ATP Finals titles.
A record six of those titles belong to Federer alone, who has played and won more ATP Finals matches than anybody else in the field with a 57-15 win-loss record at the season-ending championships. In the past decade, since the tournament moved to London, the best record belongs to Djokovic who is 32-8 with four titles at the O2 Arena – but Federer is not far behind, going 30-11 and winning the title twice. Not once since the year-end championships moved to the O2 Arena in 2009 has Federer failed to reach the semifinals at least when he was in the field.
Federer is one of three players in the field unbeaten on indoor hard courts this year, having gone 5-0 to win the Swiss Indoors Basel for the tenth time and then pulled out of the Paris Masters, citing the need to ‘pace himself’ ahead of the season-ending championships. (He also admitted to having had a stiff back before the 2018 edition, which saw him go 2-1 in the round-robin before losing to Alexander Zverev in the semifinals.)
The ATP Finals is just Federer’s fourth event since the US Open; in comparison, it will be Thiem’s sixth. That’s a significant difference in amount of matches played, but this is the trade-off 38-year-old Federer is increasingly making: Fewer events for a longer career. It can hardly be said to be having too much of a detrimental effect on him, with a 51-8 record in 2019.
If Federer has prioritized freshness at the expense of a potential lack of match fitness, Thiem has the opposite problem. The Austrian has played 63 matches in 2019 to Federer’s 59, but only nine of Federer’s have come after the US Open to 17 of Thiem’s.
Thiem is playing the Nitto ATP Finals for the fourth time this year, and has become a bit of a byword for poor performance at the season-ending championships, having only managed one win on each of his three appearances and consequently never getting out of his group. There’s reason to hope that that might change in 2019, however.
This has been Thiem’s best season on hard courts: With a 23-9 win-loss record, he has done better than almost half the field, capturing his first Masters 1000 Series title on hard courts at Indian Wells and winning 500-level tournaments in Beijing and (significantly, indoors) Vienna. Both those tournament wins came after the US Open; Thiem has never come into the season-ending championships on that kind of form before.
Defeated early in Paris by former ATP Finals champion Grigor Dimitrov may have been a blessing in disguise for Thiem in terms of getting additional rest, another factor which could help him to have his best result so far at the season-ending championships.
‘Of course that’s my big goal. The first two years it was just so nice to be here even and last year I wanted to be in the semi-finals badly, but I didn’t play that well,’ Thiem said.
‘I think I’m playing way better this year, but the level is so high, it’s the eight best guys of the season, so it can also happen that I play three very good matches and I lose three of them. There is no guarantee for nothing but I’ll try my best and hopefully I can make it to the semi-finals for the first time.’
Thiem is one of only five players to have faced Federer six or more times and to have a winning record against him, leading the head-to-head 4-2. That includes winning both of the matches they have played in 2019, with Thiem coming from a set down to beat Federer in the Indian Wells final and doing the same on the clay of Madrid. All four of Thiem’s victories over Federer have included at least one tie-break or 7-5 set; Federer’s two wins over Thiem have been relatively one-sided straight sets, including the 6-2, 6-3 victory Federer scored at the ATP Finals last year.
Federer still leads the head-to-head with Thiem on hard courts 2-1, and he has been saying that the court at the O2 Arena feels significantly faster than previous years – an advantage for him. I think over the best of three sets his more aggressive approach will tell, but Thiem should be able to make this a great deal more competitive than last year’s clash.
Federer vs Thiem Nitto ATP Finals tennis is live from London’s O2 Arena on Sunday at 8pm local/GMT
Federer vs Thiem tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Federer aims to defy losing record vs Thiem in ATP Finals opener
Six-time champion Roger Federer trails Dominic Thiem 2-4 in the head-to-head but has a much better record at the ATP…
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