No­vak Djokovic beats Thiem in open­ing match

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

No­vak Djokovic sur­vived an early set­back, and then made it look all too easy.

The sec­ond-ranked Serb, who has a chance to re­claim the No. 1 rank­ing at the O2 Arena next week­end, ral­lied to beat Do­minic Thiem 6-7 (10), 6-0, 6-2 yes­ter­day in his open­ing match at the sea­son-end­ing ATP fi­nals.

Djokovic won nine of 10 games to take con­trol of the match af­ter los­ing the first set in a tiebreaker. And even that was close.

"Yeah, a thrilling tiebreaker," Djokovic said. "I had, I think, only one set point. He just played a good point. I was in the rally, but he just was go­ing for his shots."

Thiem had his first three set points at 6-3 in the tiebreaker, but he dou­ble-faulted twice and then put a back­hand into the net to make it 6-6.

Djokovic had a chance, too, lead­ing 9-8. But he couldn't close it out with Thiem serv­ing, even­tu­ally hit­ting a back­hand long. The Aus­trian fi­nally won it on his sev­enth set point with a fore­hand win­ner, prompt­ing Djokovic to smack a ball into the crowd.

Af­ter that, it was just about all Djokovic. The Serb reeled off six straight games to send it to a third set, and then broke Thiem twice more to close it out.

"Even though I lost the first set, I thought I didn't do too many things wrong," said Djokovic, who saved the only break point he faced. "It was just the very high qual­ity of his game that pre­vailed in the first set."

In the fol­low­ing sets, it got to be too much for the Aus­trian, who was mak­ing his debut at the tour­na­ment for the top eight play­ers in the world.

"I lost a lit­tle bit energy, not much, but just a lit­tle bit (af­ter the first set)," Thiem said. "Of course, against a player like No­vak, he im­me­di­ately steps up. That's how the sec­ond set went."

Thiem said he had a chance to meet Manch­ester United man­ager Jose Mour­inho af­ter the match, and the pair chat­ted briefly. Thiem is a fan of English club Chelsea, a team Mour­inho has coached in the past.

In the late match, fourth-seeded Mi­los Raonic of Canada will face sixth-seeded Gael Mon­fils of France.

Djokovic lost the No. 1 rank­ing to Andy Mur­ray last week, but he can earn it right back in London. If ei­ther of the two wins the ti­tle next Sun­day, that one will be as­sured of the top rank­ing — as long as Djokovic wins an­other round-robin match on the way to the fi­nal.

If Djokovic does re­claim the No. 1 rank­ing, he would fin­ish the sea­son at the top for the third sea­son in a row and the fifth time in six years. Mur­ray is try­ing to end up as the top man for the first time.

With a vic­tory on Sun­day, Djokovic can also join Roger Fed­erer as the only play­ers to win the sea­son-end­ing tour­na­ment six times. Fed­erer is not play­ing in London, sit­ting out the rest of the sea­son as he con­tin­ues to re­cover from knee surgery.

Djokovic has had his own in­jury prob­lems this sea­son, in­clud­ing pulling out of the China Open with an el­bow in­jury in Septem­ber. In yes­ter­day's match, he called for a trainer dur­ing the first changeover, but it was be­cause he hurt his thumb on the court af­ter reach­ing for an early shot.

"It was just a nasty cut that I had when I didn't man­age to re­turn the serve, the first serve," Djokovic said. "Just kind of caught the sur­face, then I cut my­self. It was bleed­ing. I just wanted to stop the bleed­ing."

In the sec­ond match from this group played in the even­ing, Cana­dian Mi­los Raonic de­feated in two sets Gael Mon­fils.

Raonic was in splen­did form on the first serve and Mon­fils was never in the game. Raonic won the game 6-3, 6-4.

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