Dominic Thiem beats unpredictable Gaël Monfils in London

The young Austrian wins 6-3, 1-6, 6-4 at ATP World Tour finals at O2 Arena in Greenwich

For patrons missing their darlings, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, this final week of the tennis season in London has opened a window on the future and the view through the winter mist is somewhere between encouraging and uncertain.

The seats at the O2 Arena in Greenwich are still amply occupied but there is no escaping the fact the veteran Swiss and his faltering Spanish rival would have lent the ATP World Tour Finals their seasonal magic.

In their absence, through injury and maybe a little weariness, Dominic Thiem has thrust himself into the conversation with mixed conviction. The 23-year-old Austrian lost to Novak Djokovic on Sunday when nerves gripped his racket after he had taken the first set; and he survived a mid-match collapse yesterday to beat the unpredictable Gaël Monfils, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4.

The first set flew by in 26 minutes and for much of the time Monfils appeared to be caught in the same debilitating torpor that had enveloped him in his first match, went he went meekly into the night in two sets against Milos Raonic.

There were the usual flickerings of genius – a delightful drop shot here, a chip or a lob there, shots played with gusto from deep and with artfulness at the net, which he visited 10 times – but no bankable dividend in a frame in which he hit 11 unforced errors and two double faults.

Early passivity

Thiem now had one in the bank again, this time against a more fragile, although equally dangerous, opponent than Djokovic. He and the rest of the Tour witnessed the US Open semi-final between the then world No1 and the Frenchman last September and were as puzzled as everyone present at his early passivity before marvelling at his comeback.

Little did we realise at the time, Djokovic was almost as vulnerable that day as was Monfils and he would struggle on through the rest of the summer before landing up here in search of a fifth consecutive title, but without his No1 ranking.

Monfils, meanwhile, is trying to become the first debutant to win the title since Àlex Corretja, subsequently Andy Murray's coach for a while, in 1998. Only four others have triumphed on their introduction to the Tour's finale: Stan Smith in the first year (of course), 1970; Ilie Nastase (1971); Guillermo Vilas (1974); and John McEnroe (1978). Exalted company indeed.

Monfils, the game’s grand enigma, did his best to confound perceptions when he raced to 4-0 in the second set, banging down a couple of aces, while still reaching for the unreachable. Thiem eked out four break points in the fifth game, and began his fightback with a scorching cross-court forehand from near the baseline.

But he blew his good work – as he had done against Djokovic – with some intemperate racket work, and Monfils had the unexpected luxury of a five-game cushion as he served out to love with his fifth ace to level at a set apiece. What had earlier looked like an embarrassing walkover had morphed into a contest.

Tired opponent

But could Monfils, whose form and fitness has dipped after a wonderful early summer, hold on against his tired opponent, who was appearing in his 110th match of the season, 10 of those in the gentler surroundings of the doubles court?

Ultimately, no. Monfils dug himself out of three holes in some tight exchanges but, after an hour and a half, Thiem had his first match point on the Monfils serve and was glad to see his final shot, a go-for-it forehand into the deuce corner, drift long.

Earlier, Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares played like champions to beat the brothers who have worn that mantle for so long, Mike and Bob Bryan, 6-3, 6-4 in a tick over an hour.

A lot of matches have been quickfire spectacles this week and that is usually the case anyway in doubles. The quartet did not disappoint, as the ball flew between them in some dazzling exchanges, but the Scotland/Brazilian combination picked their moments with excellent judgment.

What an achievement it would be for the Murray family if Judy’s sons could celebrate a twin triumph here on Sunday.

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