From hitting partners to rivals: Thiem and Tsitsipas put friendship to the side in search of ATP Finals glory

andrewhendrie in Uncategorized 17 Nov 2019
Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas in 2016 (Photo: Tsitsipas’ Instagram)
Three years after practicing with Dominic Thiem as a hitting partner at the ATP Finals, Stefanos Tsitsipas will face the Austrian for the biggest title of his career in London on Sunday.
(geo restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify)
It’s been a whirlwind rise for Tsitsipas, who was ranked outside the top 200 and hadn’t even played Grand Slam qualifying when he trained with Thiem in 2016.
Fast forward three years, and the 21-year-old from Greece is preparing to face Thiem for real this time – and with the small matter of the season-ending ATP Finals title on the line, with the pair squaring off in the last ATP match of the decade on Sunday night in London.

Thiem said he knew Tsitsipas was special when they practiced in 2016, but it wasn’t until they first played each other on tour at the start of 2018 that he became convinced of the Greek’s enormous potential.

“That was the first time I met him, 2016 here, as a hitting partner. Of course I saw that he’s playing great, but I didn’t put so much attention on it because other things to focus on,” Thiem said after his straight sets semi-final win over Alexander Zverev on Saturday night.

“And then he came on tour, and we played our first match last year in Doha, like two years ago almost, and there I saw and I also felt his amazing potential. Then at the end of the year already he was No. 14 or 15, and then everybody could see where his direction goes, only up.

“It’s amazing story for both of us, because probably both of us, we didn’t think that only three years later we were going to face each other in the finals.”

Both Thiem and Tsitsipas have taken some big scalps this week in reaching their first final at the season-ending championships.

Dominic Thiem (PA Images)

Thiem has toppled Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and defending champion Zverev, while Tsitsipas has also scored wins over the latter two, completing a convincing 6-3 6-4 triumph over Federer earlier on Saturday.

“Well, he [Tsitsipas] really deserves it [making the final]. He’s a good person,” Thiem added. “He’s a very good player with a very attractive style to watch, so it’s good to have him.”

Thiem leads their head-to-head 4-2 and has won three of their four previous meetings on hardcourt, including their last clash in the Beijing final a few weeks ago.
The Austrian also said the pair had developed a good friendship off the court – but that will be put on hold until the competition of Sunday’s showdown.

“I always had a pretty good relationship with him, but of course at the Laver Cup we all get to know each other very close, and this year the chemistry was great, was really nice. We had a lot of fun,” he said.o

“But, yeah, once we take the step on the court, it’s a battle and we forget for two, three hours our friendships.”