Stefanos Tsitsipas fought back from a set down to beat Dominic Thiem and claim the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals on Sunday night.
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Tsitsipas lost a tight first set on a tie break, but he roared back to dominate the second, before holding his nerve late in the decider to register a thrilling 6-7 6-2 7-6 victory and capture the biggest title of his young career. He becomes the youngest champion at the year-end championships since Lleyton Hewitt won the title in 2001.
It’s stunning end to a remarkable season for Tsitsipas, who started the year outside the world’s top-90, but has surged into the top ten in 2019. Around this same period last season, the young Greek was winning the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, but he has put together an incredible 12 months to rocket up the ATP ladder and establish himself as one of the very best players in the world.
“It’s been a rollercoaster,” said Tsitsipas. “Holding this trophy right now feels amazing… This tournament has been unbelievable guys, you made it so, so emotional. I have never received so much support in a stage like that, ever. Honestly, I owe it all to you, most of it to you. Overall, the atmosphere this week was unbelievable.”
Tsitsipas had delivered a nerveless, high quality performance against Roger Federer in the semi-finals on Saturday, and it was the Greek who made the better start in Sunday’s final against Thiem. Striking the ball confidently, and attacking the net at every opportunity, the 21-year-old carved out the first break point of the match at 2-1, but Thiem upped the aggression to hold for 2-2.
Both men would have chances through the course of a hard fought opening set, featuring heavy hitting from the back of the court as the players battled for control the baseline, and constant trips to the net, but neither could force a breakthrough, leading into a first set tie break.
Tsitsipas went down an immediate mini-break after missing with a forehand in the opening point of the breaker, but despite fighting his way back to parity, saving a set point at 5-6 with another trip to the net, he would ultimately fall short as Thiem slammed a huge first serve down the middle on his second set point to take a marathon opening set.
The response from Tsitsipas was magnificent. There was a definite drop in Thiem’s level, but Tsitsipas was razor sharp at the start of the second set, breaking twice to open up a 3-0 lead, and effectively put the set beyond Thiem. The Greek maintained that advantage through the rest of the set, firing 10 winners and just 1 unforced error in fantastic set of tennis. He would finish the match on 34 winners and 16 unforced errors.
“I have no clue how I played so well in the second set,” said Tsitsipas. “I have no idea. I think my mind was at ease and I wasn’t really thinking of much, which led to such a great performance in the second set, breaking him twice… I didn’t give him much options to play with in the second set. It was pretty much an excellent set for me”.
Tsitsipas took that momentum into the third set, and forced the issue early on, engineering two break points in the opening game of the decider, but Thiem dug deep to hold. The Austrian however cracked in his next service game, driving a backhand into the net to drop his serve. Tsitsipas rammed home his advantage with a hold to love to move within three games of victory, but just as he seemed to be closing in on victory, he faltered, playing his poorest game of the match at 3-2 to hand the break back to Thiem.
Re-energized by that break, Thiem began to strike the ball with a lot more authority, much like he did in the opening set, and earlier in the tournament, while Tsitsipas looked like he was hanging on a bit in a sudden shift in momentum.
Twice, the Greek had to hold to stay in the match, and he did with aplomb, showcasing the sort of mental fortitude that had characterized his win over Federer just over 24 hours earlier.
The match fittingly went into a tie break, and Tsitsipas took early control with two mini-breaks for the 4-1 lead. Thiem fought back back to level, unloading on a big backhand down the line to even the score at 4-4, but the Austrian was undone by a flurry of nervy errors towards the end of the breaker. He drove a forehand long to give Tsitsipas a 5-4 lead, and then failed to clear the net with an attempted forehand down the line to concede two match points.
Tsitsipas needed only one of the match points, dropping into the O2 turf in disbelief after claiming the biggest title of his career.