Stefanos Tsitsipas bookended a memorable season with victory at the ATP Finals on Sunday evening in London.
The 21-year-old Greek star held off Dominic Thiem in a thrilling finale to the ATP season, beating the Austrian 6-7(6) 6-2 7-6(4) in a battle lasting more than two-and-a-half hours.
The victory at the O2 Arena marked by far the biggest title of Tsitsipas’ career; his three previous titles – Stockholm in 2018, Marseille and Estoril in 2019 – all came at ATP 250 level.
And after beginning his year with a semifinal run at the Australian Open, he closed it in style to improve his win-loss record to 54-25.
“It’s been a rollercoaster. Holding this trophy right now feels amazing,” said Tsitsipas, who beat defending champion Alexander Zverev in the group stage and Roger Federer in the semifinals.
“This tournament has been unbelievable. I have never received so much support in a stage like that, ever. The atmosphere this week was unbelievable.”
Tsitsipas entered the match having lost four of his six previous meetings with Thiem, including, most recently, a three-set loss in the final of the China Open in Beijing in October.
Yet after narrowly losing the opening set, he took control of this contest, winning nine of the next 12 games to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the final set.
Thiem, who had beaten Federer and Novak Djokovic in the group stages, drew on his vast reserves of confidence and wrested back the momentum, winning three straight games thanks to intense, aggressive tennis the Greek could not match.
But Tsitsipas settled back into a rhythm on serve, and from here, the two men went game-for-game to set up a thrilling final tiebreak.
This was a microcosm of the third set; Tsitsipas bounded out to a 4-1 lead only for Thiem to land some crushing blows and level scores at 4-4.
But errors proved his undoing; Thiem missed consecutive forehands to hand Tsitsipas two championship points, and the Greek converted at his first opportunity.
He finished the match with just 16 unforced errors, while Thiem committed 40.
“I have no clue how I played so well in the second set. I think my mind was at ease and I wasn’t really thinking of much, which led to such a great performance in the second set, breaking him twice,” Tsitsipas said.
“I didn’t give him much options to play with in the second set. It was pretty much an excellent set for me.
“(In the third) it was pretty frustrating for me to be playing with such nerves for the first time in such a big event. I was a break up, I couldn’t manage to hold it.
“Things were decided in the tiebreak and I am so relieved by this outstanding performance and fight that I gave out on the court.”
Tsitsipas will finish the year at world No.6, buoyed by the consistency of his progression during 2019 as he prepares to embark on a new season.
He beat every member of the current top 10 at some stage throughout this year, including Federer twice and Zverev three times. His tally of 54 match wins in 2019 was better than everyone except Daniil Medvedev (59) and Novak Djokovic (also on 54).
For world No.4 Thiem, this was just his second loss in seven ATP Finals this year.
Of his five titles, three came on hard courts and one (Vienna) was indoors, dismantling any lingering opinions the Austrian can only succeed on slow red clay.
If their success on London’s medium-fast hard courts is any indication, both Tsitsipas and Thiem are sure to be feeling good about their tennis, and their chances, when they arrive at Melbourne Park in January.
“I think that for sure we can do it next year,” Thiem said of the younger brigade of players still to make a breakthrough at the majors.
“We are all playing great tennis. Sascha (Zverev), Stefanos, me, some other guys. I'm pretty sure that we're going to see a new and young Grand Slam champion next year.”