ATP Finals: Thiem-Medvedev, not Djokovic-Nadal

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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LONDON — Instead of No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 2 Rafael Nadal for the ATP Finals trophy, it’ll be No. 3 Dominic Thiem against No. 4 Daniil Medvedev.

Nadal had won 71 matches in a row when grabbing the opening set, and he served for the victory in Saturday’s semifinals when leading 5-4 in the second set. But Medvedev broke at love there and came all the way back to win 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3, claiming the last four games.

“It’s great that we managed to beat two of the biggest players in the history of the sport,” Medvedev said. “It’s super for tennis.”

Thiem frittered away four match points in his semifinal against Djokovic because he was “tight and nervous” during a second-set tiebreaker. Thiem gathered himself, though, and eventually reeled off seven of the match’s last eight points after trailing 4-0 in the last tiebreaker, winning 7-5, 6-7 (10), 7-6 (5).

“What he did from 0-4 in the third-set tiebreaker was just unreal,” said Djokovic, a 17-time Grand Slam champion. “I don’t think I played bad. … He just crushed the ball and everything went in.”

Thiem ended Djokovic’s bid for a record-tying sixth ATP Finals trophy, while Medvedev prevented Nadal from continuing to pursue the most significant title the 20-time major champ hasn’t won.

Instead of a 57th meeting between Djokovic and Nadal, Thiem and Medvedev will face off for the fifth time. Thiem leads 3-1, including a straight-set victory in the U.S. Open semifinals in September en route to the 27-year-old Austrian’s first Grand Slam championship.

“I, for sure, can cause him some trouble,” Medvedev said.

Did that to Nadal, too.

Nadal seemed on his way to the final when he reeled off four consecutive games in the second set for a chance to serve for the match. He surprisingly stumbled.

“I played a bad game. That’s it,” said Nadal, who deflected a question about whether he had any physical issues during the match.

Once he was back in the match, Medvedev took advantage, dominating the ensuing tiebreaker with the help of a shanked lob winner, a forehand winner that concluded a 26-stroke exchange and a leaping backhand that drew a netted forehand.

Nadal couldn’t shake that off, dropping the match’s last three games as he serve-and-volleyed more than usual, sliced his backhand more than usual and made forehand errors more than usual.

Medvedev had been 0-3 against Nadal, including a five-set loss in the 2019 U.S. Open final, and the lanky 24-year-old Russian’s top-notch serve, capable backhand and willingness to hang in long baseline rallies provided Saturday’s breakthrough.

A year ago, Medvedev went 0-3 in round-robin play at the ATP Finals, while Thiem was the runner-up to Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Whoever wins Sunday on the indoor hard court – where things will be quiet because spectators are banned due to the coronavirus pandemic – will be the tournament’s sixth different champion over the past six years, the longest such stretch since 1974-79.

It was the first time since 2004 that the top four players in the rankings filled the four semifinal slots for the ATP Finals. Djokovic, already assured of finishing the year at No. 1 for a record-tying sixth time, was trying to match Roger Federer’s mark of six ATP Finals trophies.

In the second set against Djokovic, Thiem’s ace put him ahead 6-5 in the tiebreaker, one point from victory.

But Djokovic saved that initial chance with a 127 mph service winner. Thiem’s next opportunity came at 7-6; he double-faulted.

“I was, like, so tight in my whole body,” Thiem said.

The third was at 9-8, when he pushed a down-the-line forehand wide. At 10-9, Djokovic erased No. 4 with a forehand that landed right on a line.

That began a three-point run by Djokovic to steal the set.

But Thiem regrouped and his 300th career tour-level victory made him only the second man with at least five wins each against the Big Three of Djokovic (5-7 career mark), Federer (5-2) and Nadal (6-9). Andy Murray is the other.

“If you beat these guys,” Thiem said, “it gives you a huge boost of confidence.”

Note: Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares clinched the year-end No. 1 team ranking for men’s doubles when the other contenders, Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, lost in Saturday’s semifinals to Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

Cirstea beats Sabalenka at Miami; night matches rained out

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Sorana Cirstea advanced to her first semifinal of a WTA 1000 event in a decade, beating Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka 6-4, 6-4 at the Miami Open on Wednesday.

The 32-year-old Cirstea beat the highest-ranked opponent of her career by knocking off the second-ranked Sabalenka. Cirstea previously defeated No. 4 Caroline Garcia this month at Indian Wells and topped Garcia again in the second round at Miami.

“I think I’m a bit speechless,” Cirstea said. “I came out knowing that it’s going to be a really tough match. Aryna hits so hard, so I knew I had to hold my ground, and I’m very, very happy with my performance today.”

The 74th-ranked Romanian, who has two career singles titles, will face either Petra Kvitova and Ekaterina Alexandrova in the semifinals. The Kvitova-Alexandrova match had been scheduled for Wednesday night but was postponed to Thursday because of rain; also postponed was the men’s match between top-ranked Carlos Alcaraz and No. 10 Taylor Fritz.

Alexandrova advanced on Tuesday when Bianca Andreescu suffered a left ankle injury and left the court in a wheelchair. On Wednesday, the 22-year-old Andreescu tweeted that she tore two ligaments in her ankle and will be out indefinitely.

“It’s tough to say exactly how long it will take, but let’s just say it could’ve been much worse!! I’m going to take it day by day, and I am optimistic that with the right work, rehab, and preparation, I’ll be back on court soon,” the 2019 U.S. Open champion said in her social media post.

Sabalenka had six double faults, three of them on break points, and made 21 unforced errors to just nine for Cirstea.

“I guess people like to keep count of the age, the years, the results, but I never do that. I just mind my own business, work hard, do my thing, believe in my game, work with my coach Thomas Johansson – we just started in December and so far, I think it’s going great,” Cirstea said.

In the men’s draw, 11th-ranked Jannik Sinner beat Emil Ruusuvuori 6-3, 6-1.

Elena Rybakina hits 10 aces in Miami for 12th straight win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina extended her winning streak to 12 matches by delivering 10 aces – her fourth consecutive outing with at least that many – in a 6-3, 6-0 victory over 25th-seeded Martina Trevisan in the Miami Open quarterfinals.

Rybakina has 46 aces through four matches at the hard-court tournament in Florida and a WTA-leading 201 this season.

The 23-year-old, who represents Kazakhstan, improved to 20-4 in 2023, including a run to the Australian Open final in January and a title at Indian Wells, California, last week.

She is trying to become only the fifth player to win the women’s trophies at Indian Wells and Miami in the same season. Top-ranked Iga Swiatek did it a year ago; she withdrew from Miami this time because of a rib injury.

“Of course it would be amazing to achieve something like that,” the 10th-seeded Rybakina said about the prospect of completing what’s known as the Sunshine Double, “but it’s still far away.”

So far in Rybakina’s career, 13 of her 18 semifinal appearances have come on hard courts. She will face No. 3 Jessica Pegula for a berth in the final after the American fought off two match points and outlasted No. 27 Anastasia Potapova 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (2) in a match that ended just before 1:30 a.m. after play had been delayed by rain.

“I haven’t been that physically tired in just a really long time,” Pegula said. “Just the humidity was taking so much out of me, and I haven’t been able to play in humidity like that in a while. It was just really tough, so really, it was just pure will.”

Trevisan reached the French Open semifinals in 2022.

In fourth-round men’s action Tuesday, No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was beaten 7-6 (4), 6-4 by No. 14 Karen Khachanov, while defending champion Carlos Alcaraz, Taylor Fritz and Jannik Sinner all beat seeded opponents in straight sets.

Alcaraz, who returned to No. 1 in the ATP rankings last week, got past Australian Open semifinalist Tommy Paul 6-4, 6-4 to set up a meeting against Fritz, the top-ranked American man and seeded ninth in Miami.

Fritz compiled twice as many winners, 22, as unforced errors, 11, and only dropped serve once during a 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 7 Holger Rune. That put Fritz into his first quarterfinal in seven appearances in Miami – and his first matchup against Alcaraz, a 19-year-old from Spain who won the U.S. Open in September for his first Grand Slam title.

“I’m really excited for it,” Fritz said. “I think that a lot of people are really excited for that, too.”

No. 10 Sinner eliminated No. 6 Andrey Rublev 6-2, 6-4 and has yet to drop a set in the tournament.

Sinner’s next opponent will be unseeded Emil Ruusuvuori, a 4-6, 6-4, 7-5 winner against No. 26 Botic van de Zandschulp.

No. 4 Daniil Medvedev, forced to start late and off his scheduled court after the rain, beat Quentin Halys 6-4, 6-2. He will face American Christopher Eubanks, who edged Adrian Mannarino in a pair of tiebreakers.

Khachanov will play Francisco Cerundolo, a semifinalist in Miami last year, in the other men’s quarterfinal.