The British capital of London is hosting the ATP Finals event for the 12th and last time, gathering the world's leading eight players but not the crowd at the O2 Arena. In the first round-robin clash, the 2019 finalists Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas were the rivals again, competing under entirely different circumstances from what we had 12 months ago.
Instead of a packed crowd, there was no one to support the players outside of their teams, something that Thiem found not easy to endure. The Austrian toppled the defending champion 7-6, 4-6, 6-3 in two hours and 17 minutes for a winning start and the fifth straight season with at least one win in London.
It was an entertaining battle, with Dominic taking five points more than Stefanos to kick off the action in a winning way. It was their eighth clash and the fifth victory for Thiem, who prevailed with a single break in set number three.
Stefanos had momentum after the second, losing the edge at the beginning of the decider and not finding the way to get back despite taking 11 points on the return in the last part of the match. The Austrian had 37 winners and 30 unforced errors, leaving the Greek on a 30-26 ratio and earning the victory in the shortest rallies up to four strokes where he was 65-55 ahead.
Dominic Thiem understands and follows all the measures in the bubble.
"Physically, this has been the most comfortable year in a long time. Mentally, it is much tougher to endure it, as you usually get so much energy from the fans; 17,000 of those in the packed stadium bring positive energy, and we are missing all that.
You have to bring it up yourself during the match when the stands are empty. You have all the time to push yourself, give yourself energy. After a long match, you have a chance to go out and spend some time in great cities like London or New York; the city also gives you precious energy when you are hanging out with the people you love.
All that is gone right now, and that makes it difficult. We are all still very grateful that these significant events are happening; we are privileged to do our job and compete, so we have to accept the circumstances. The first and second floors are reserved for the players in the hotel, keeping us away from the people not related to tennis; that makes it a safe environment.
Still, it's pretty rough at the same time. We can't catch the sun or fresh air for more than a couple of minutes per day. As I said, the most important thing is to have the tournament in the first place," Dominic Thiem said.