In this year’s Australian Open final, the Serbian fought back down two sets to one to edge the Austrian, 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, in a four-hour classic. Last year in London, Thiem advanced to the semifinal stage with an incredible 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over the world No. 1. Prior to this encounter, in the 2019 Roland Garros semifinal, Thiem prevailed, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5, 5-7, 7-5, in yet another classic match. It’s quite clear that Thiem’s overwhelming power pitted against Djokovic’s unparalleled movement and defensive ability is a match made in tennis heaven.
Not many players can simply hit Djokovic off the court, but Thiem can, and that’s exactly what he did at this tournament last year. At one point in the match, after witnessing Thiem strike several consecutive shots as hard as he possibly could, Djokovic looked at him in complete disbelief.
It’s safe to expect more of the same on Saturday, as Thiem has brought his best tennis to the O2 arena. After going through the motions in an energy-conserving straight-set loss to Andrey Rublev in a dead round-robin rubber on Thursday, the Austrian should be completely fresh as he attempts to capture his first ATP Finals crown.
According to Tennis Channel analyst Paul Annacone, Thiem’s ability to change the crosscourt backhand pattern, and rip his backhand early and down the line, will be the key to this match. Last year against Djokovic, Thiem executed this shot to perfection.
In order to fend off Thiem’s onslaught of spin and power, the world No. 1 will need to capitalize on his greatest strength, his return of serve. With his incredible timing and flexibility, Djokovic owns arguably the greatest return in the history of the sport. If he can instantly put Thiem on defense with this shot, like he does below, he will have plenty of chances.
After losing the first five matches of their 11 encounters, Thiem has won four of the last six. This makes sense, as the 27-year-old is smack-dab in the middle of his physical prime, and probably should win more than he loses at this stage of his career against the 33-year-old.
According to the oddsmakers, Djokovic is a slight -150 favorite, which essentially means this match is a toss-up. After a turbulent year both on and off the court, it seems the Serb is eager to finish 2020 on a high note. Experience is certainly on the five-time champion's side, but the Austrian appears to be in better form at the moment. Regardless of the outcome, this match is sure to thrill. Your guess is as good as mine, but since Thiem finally captured his elusive first major championship at the US Open, he should be playing with house money, and swinging freely.
The Pick: Dominic Thiem