Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem have given their legions of fans much to celebrate since the start of this 11-month season: a pair of Grand Slam titles for the former; an Indian Wells championship and a second French Open final run for the latter. But they've also saved some of their best tennis for last. Within the last month, both Thiem and Djokovic won indoor hard-court tournaments; within the last few days, they both posted impressive straight-sets wins against top competition, including Roger Federer, at the ATP Finals.

And within the course of two hours and 47 minutes on Tuesday, they both pushed each other to their limits. The result was a brilliant display of brutal and beautiful tennis, something either players' fans can appreciate.

In a match befitting a season-ending championship, it was Thiem who eventually emerged on top, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (5). We may not see a better match for the rest of the week in London, but those who watched this three-set classic might already feel satisfied.


Drama Kings: Thiem backs up Federer ATP Finals win by edging Djokovic

Drama Kings: Thiem backs up Federer ATP Finals win by edging Djokovic

The layers of drama in this round-robin match began in the first set, which necessitated a tiebreaker, and then slowly but surely built from the second set onward.

With Thiem serving at 4-5 in the third set, it was Djokovic's return, perhaps the single best shot in game today, and one of the most effective strokes in tennis history, that appeared to give him a definitive edge. The Serb ended the 30-15 point like a server would fire an ace, just in reverse At 40-30, Djokovic took a forehand cut that left Thiem, hardly a serving pushover, on the defensive. Djokovic kept applying pressure with his returning ripostes.

But when Thiem managed to hold serve, amidst all the suffocating defense, it was as if the Austrian took Djokovic's best shot and lived to tell about it. When Thiem proceeded to promptly break Djokovic for a 6-5 lead, it was the latest seemingly definitive edge to appear—and then, just as quickly, vanish. Djokovic's return was still very much present.

Serving for the match at 6-5, Thiem capitulated, but at least he had a final tiebreaker to fall back on. Down 4-1 to Djokovic, the overtime seemed but a means to an end. But Thiem won the next five points, and six of the last seven, to win one of the year's most compelling contests.


Anyone who watched the Seattle Seahawks' unlikely win over the previously unbeaten San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football could be forgiven for seeing double. In that game, both teams traded late blows, and wasn't until the very end, after a host of missed opportunities, that a winner was crowned.

On Tuesday Afternoon Tennis, it was Thiem playing the role of Russell Wilson, Seattle's electric quarterback, and Djokovic reprising Chase McLaughlin, kicking away a golden opportunity. Had Djokovic won, he would have secured a slot in the semifinals. Instead, he'll face Federer in a winner-take-all match.

Talk about saving some of the best for last.