LONDON - Daniil Medvedev sent Rafael Nadal packing after a gruelling slugfest at the ATP Finals in London on Saturday to set up a title match against Novak Djokovic's conqueror Dominic Thiem.
The Spanish world number two, who has never won the elite event in his illustrious career, served for the match in the second set but was eventually beaten 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.
Earlier, US Open champion Thiem recovered from 4-0 down in the third-set tie-break against Djokovic to win 7-5, 6-7 (10/12), 7-6 (7/5).
The giant Medvedev -- arguably the hottest player on the tour after his Paris Masters win -- put Nadal's serve under intense pressure in the early stages of their evening match at the empty O2 Arena.
But he was unable to make his chances count and a drop in his level allowed the Spaniard to break to love to lead 5-3 before serving out for the set.
Medvedev, 24, immediately found his focus at the start of the second set, winning his first service game to love before Nadal double-faulted to give the Russian a 2-0 lead.
Just when it seemed as though Medvedev was cruising, Nadal, 34, broke back twice to take total control and stepped up to serve for the match.
But in another astonishing twist, the 20-time Grand Slam champion was broken to love and Medvedev won the eventual tie-break.
The deciding set hinged on the seventh game, which Medvedev eventually won. He repeated the feat to seal a famous win.
- Djokovic agony -
Thiem's victory against Djokovic ended the world number one's hopes of equalling Roger Federer's record of six titles at the elite eight-man event.
The 2019 runner-up faced an uphill battle psychologically after squandering four match points in the second-set tie-break.
But he was quickly back in the groove and rallied from a desperate situation in the final-set tie-break, winning six successive points to earn two match points, taking the second of those.
"It was for sure a mental battle," said Thiem. "I got so tight in the second-set tie-break, first of all because to play these legends is always going to be something special.
"And then playing for a final here at the ATP Finals is also something very special. I thought after my first big title in New York, maybe I'm going to be a little bit more calm but that was a mistake I guess."
Thiem took time to settle at the start of the contest but forced the only break of the match in the 11th game, which proved enough to win the first set.
The second set went to a nail-biting tie-break. Thiem squandered four match points and eventually dumped a backhand into the net as the 17-time Grand Slam champion took it 12-10 to level the match.
Both players settled quickly at the start of the decider, with Djokovic looking far more focused than he had in the latter stages of the second set.
A high-quality contest boiled down to the dramatic third-set tie-break, with Thiem defying the odds.
The Austrian is only the second player in 2020 to win a tie-break against Djokovic, who entered the third-set decider with a 15-1 tie-break record this season.
Djokovic, who has already tied Pete Sampras's record mark of six year-end number-one finishes, has not won the season-ending championships since 2015.
"What he did from 0-4 in the third-set tiebreaker was just unreal," said the world number one. "I mean, I don't think I played bad."
© Agence France-Presse