Dominic Thiem swept a final-set tiebreak from 0-4 down, defeating Novak Djokovic 7-5, 6-7(10), 7-6(5) on Saturday to reach a second consecutive title match at the ATP Finals.
The Austrian struck back after double-faulting on a match point in the second set to take it into a third; he then lost the first four points of the final-set decider decider before winning six points in a row and finally going through on his sixth match point.
Djokovic had won four trophies in a row here, the last in 2015.
Thiem’s massive struggle with the world No. 1 took nearly three hours, with the Austrian pounding 50 winners and saving all three break points he faced. He dished out dozen aces.
The player who won the US Open two months ago will fight for the trophy on Sunday against either Rafael Nadal or Daniil Medvedev.
“This was so much on the edge, like every match here between the best in the world,” Thiem said,
“I’m incredibly happy to go through, I’ll try to be ready tomorrow.
“After I fought so hard all week to get to the final, I’ll try and do everything to win the title,” he added after scoring the 300th victory of his career.
“I’m looking forward to a tough match, it will be the last one of a very tough season.”
Thiem moved towards a chance to wrap up a straight-sets victory after saving a pair of Djokovic set points in the 12th game of the second set.
But as it went into a tiebreaker, nerves tightened.
The third-ranked Austrian, 27, missed on four total winning chances in the breaker, with Djokovic squeezing out the set to level.
The third stay on serve as it also went into a decider.
Djokovic took his 4-0 lead, lost the next six points and saved Thiem’s fifth match point before sending a return long over the baseline to end the afternoon struggle seconds later.
“What he did from 0-4 in the third-set tiebreaker was just unreal,” Djokovic said. “And I don’t think I played bad.
“He just crushed the ball. Everything went in from both corners, and he played a couple of very short slices, angles.
“I mean, what can you do? I mean, I was in a driver’s position at 4-Love. I thought I was very close to winning it.
“He just took it away from me, but he deserved it, because he just went for it and everything worked.”
Thiem admitted his second set tiebreaker was a diaster.
“I got so tight, playing these legends is always special. After New York, I thought maybe I would be more calm – but that was a mistake.”
Thiem is the first back-to-back finalist at the event since Djokovic played in five straight championship matches from 2012-16.