World number two Rafael Nadal and Austria’s Dominic Thiem began their ATP Finals campaigns with victory in Sunday’s opening matches at London’s O2 Arena.
Nadal jumped to the top of the London 2020 group with a straight sets 6-3, 6-4 win over Russian debutant Andrey Rublev after Thiem prevailed against Tsitsipas 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-3 in a repeat of last year’s final.
“Of course it’s a positive start, but I have to play against Dominic and then Stefanos, so two of the toughest opponents that you can face,” said Nadal.
Nadal meets Thiem next on Tuesday and it will be their first meeting since the Australian Open quarter-finals, when Thiem prevailed.
“I’m gonna try to be ready for it,” added Nadal. “Going to be a big challenge, but I really hope the victory of today help me for that match.”
Earlier, Novak Djokovic was presented with the year-end world number one trophy after finishing on top of the rankings for a record-equalling sixth time.
“I am happy but I have a mix of emotions,” said Djokovic in an on-court presentation of the trophy at the crowd-less O2 Arena.
“This season has been very unusual, different. That’s why I’m torn between being happy and sad with everything that’s going on.”
Djokovic is in the top-eight tournament’s opposite group of four, named Tokyo 1970, which also includes Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and another first-timer in Diego Schwartzman.
Two players from each group will advance to the semi-finals to play for a place in the November 22 final.
It is the 50th anniversary of the ATP Finals, as the group names commemorate, as well as its last year being hosted in London before a move to Turin, Italy in 2021.
The young Greek Tsitsipas prevailed in three sets against Thiem to win the 2019 tournament, which was watched by an 18,000 capacity crowd. However, because of coronavirus, this year’s setting was eerily silent, with no public spectators.
“We were both in great shape last year in the finals,” said Thiem.
“The atmosphere was insane but today was different. Every win here against a top-10 player is something special. And against Stefanos is special because he’s such a great player.”
The reigning US Open champion Thiem edged a close first set before Tsitsipas tied up the contest by a single break to force a decider.
Three consecutive games from Thiem in the final frame was enough for him to clinch the match in 2 hours 17 minutes.
For the first time in London, there was no crowd, masks worn by both players and the umpire during the warm-up and electronic line calls were used through the Hawkeye system instead of line judges.
“The electronic line call, I like it a lot because now there are no wrong decisions. If it’s out, it’s out,” said Thiem.
Just like in last year’s final, the first set between Thiem and Tsitsipas went to a tie-break with Tsitsipas blowing a 5-3 lead as Thiem collected four straight points to move ahead.
“He dealt with my serve better and applied more pressure to me,” said Tsitsipas.”I think that paid off for him today. I wasn’t mature enough and rushed,” he said, referring to the tie-break. “It was the silliest thing that ever happened to me.”
Tsitsipas immediately responded in the second set and wrong-footed Thiem with a punched forehand pass to break for a 2-1 lead, which was enough to tie the scoreboard up.
Austria’s outstanding sports personality Thiem earned some breathing room in the deciding frame when a slick backhand followed by a cunning drop shot saw him collect three straight games and run away with victory.