Dominic Thiem produced one of his best performances of the season as he edged a near three-hour epic against Novak Djokovic to reach the Nitto ATP Finals last four.
The pair produced a thrilling night of tennis with a back-and-forth slugfest for two hours and 47 minutes under the lights at the O2 Arena on Thursday night.
In the end it came down to a final set tie-break and Djokovic, who had not lost a tie-break since the second set at Wimbledon against Polish rising star Hubert Hurkacz, saw his famous defence breached by Thiem as he collapsed to the court having won it on his second match point opportunity.
Dominic Thiem won one of the matches of 2019 as he reached the last four of the ATP Finals
He left Novak Djokovic exhausted following a two hours and 47 minutes epic at the O2 Arena
Thiem has rapidly improved on hard courts this year and produced a stunning performance
Djokovic has the world No 1 ranking in his sight but he struggled to nullify Thiem’s threat
‘This was one of these very special matches that I’ve practiced all of my life for,’ Thiem said in victory.
Djokovic undoubtedly started the stronger, keen to ensure his progression to the semi-finals before taking on Roger Federer on Thursday in the final group game.
And the world No 2, with that No 1 spot in his eye-line, took the first set on a tie-break, having earlier surrendered a break he had acquired at the start of the match.
But despite getting an early foothold, soon Djokovic found the stamina and tenacity of Thiem, six years his junior, difficult to deal with.
The Serbian took control early and gestured to the crowd after claiming the opening set
Thiem was frustrated having clawed back from a break down but he rallied soon after to win
And having rolled over in a 6-3 second set, where Thiem looked most comfortable all night, Djokovic’s tiredness was brutally exposed when he was broken to love at 5-5 in the third.
Djokovic is famed for his brick-wall-like defence and while he rallied late on to force another tie-break, the stats ultimately told a story of Thiem’s growing dominance in the contest, outscoring Djokovic with 50 winners to 27.
This is Thiem’s fourth successive season at the ATP Finals in London but he has so far looked a different player to the one British crowds have seen in previous visits, dispatching Federer in his first group game, and now the formidable Djokovic in his second.
He has already improved on those previous three visits – where he won a single game each time, consistently bowing out in the group stages. Thiem can cap off a flawless group stage campaign against Italian debutant Matteo Berrettini on Thursday.
Those lucky enough to have a spot in the arena on Tuesday night will be in unanimous agreement that they witnessed one of the finest matches on the ATP Tour.
What this result has down now is set up a deciding match between Federer and Djokovic, both going for second spot in Group Bjorn Borg, in what many anticipate to be a cracker between two of the sports all-time greats.
Djokovic continued to be made to work for his points as Thiem ramped up the pressure
In the end the Austrian claimed a third set tie-break to progress to the ATP Finals last four