Continuing our review of the 2021 season, today ATPTour.com looks at the top two upsets at ATP Tour events this year. On Friday and Saturday, we’ll look at the biggest upsets at majors in 2021.
2) Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Third Round, Lorenzo Sonego d. Dominic Thiem 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(5)
Defeating Dominic Thiem is a difficult challenge at the best of times. Beating the Austrian on clay though is even harder, given his strong record on the surface, on which the 28-year-old has won seven tour-level titles and reached two Roland Garros finals.
Arriving at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Rome, Thiem was in a confident mood, having enjoyed a run to the semi-finals in Madrid the week before. After moving past Marton Fucsovics in his opening match, the then-World No. 4 was the heavy favourite to overcome Italy’s Lorenzo Sonego, who entered the match with a 1-6 record against Top 10 opponents.
However, Sonego and Thiem played out a classic in front of a lively Italian crowd at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
Despite the magnitude of the occasion, with Sonego aiming to reach the quarter-finals at his home Masters 1000 event for the first time, the 26-year-old flew out of the blocks. He took the game to Thiem with his heavy topspin groundstrokes to clinch the opening set.
Inevitably, 2020 US Open titlist Thiem roared back to win the second set as he produced stunning shotmaking, using his one-handed backhand up the line to dominate the match at times.
While many would have expected Thiem to then race away in the decider, Sonego had other ideas and showed an abundance of flair and grit to see off the Austrian in a third-set tie-break and claim his biggest win of the season, 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(5).
“It’s amazing, an unbelievably emotional moment for me because I’m in Rome, in my Italy with fans for two sets,” Sonego said in his on-court interview. “I’m so happy for this victory, for this match. Thiem is with Nadal the best player on clay.”
Entering the week, Sonego held just a 2-4 record in Rome. However, he would go on to reach the semi-finals in 2021, upsetting another Top 10 star, Andrey Rublev, in the quarter-finals before losing to World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
1) Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters, Third Round, Daniel Evans d. Novak Djokovic 6-4, 7-5
Djokovic arrived at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters undefeated in 2021 (9-0). The Serbian had won both his matches at the ATP Cup and triumphed at the Australian Open for the ninth time.
The World No. 1 is a two-time champion in Monte-Carlo and was aiming to add his 37th ATP Masters 1000 crown to his record-breaking haul. The Serbian cruised past Jannik Sinner in straight sets in his opening match to set his first ATP Head2Head meeting against Daniel Evans in the third round.
Entering the week, Evans had not won a tour-level match on clay in nearly four years. The World No. 33 earned victories against Dusan Lajovic and Hubert Hurkacz in the first two rounds, but the prospect of upsetting Djokovic seemed a tall order.
Evans, who won his first tour-level title at the Murray River Open in February, began brightly against the Serbian, with Djokovic competing in just his second match since the Australian Open two months earlier. The Briton won 12 of the first 17 points as he raced to a 3-0 lead, causing the 20-time major champion problems with his backhand slice in the windy conditions.
Although the 34-year-old improved on return and pegged Evans back to 4-4, the 30-year-old dug deep to clinch the 57-minute opener, letting out a roar after Djokovic committed his 23rd unforced error of the first set.
Evans remained focused on his game plan, hitting 69 per cent of his backhand slices into Djokovic’s backhand third of the court, and another 15 per cent down the middle, with a majority of those shots aimed at the Serbian’s backhand, keeping the top seed from dictating points.
Evans was the more solid and consistent of the two as he broke to lead 6-5 in the second set, before holding serve to secure the biggest win of his career, 6-4, 7-5. It was the first time Evans had reached a Masters 1000 quarter-final, and he ended Djokovic’s perfect start to 2021 in the process.
“You can never be confident coming into such a big match like that against Novak,” Evans said. “It is clearly a big win and I am delighted that I got through, especially being a break down and [having had] little difficulties in the first set. It was really pleasing and I am delighted.
“The biggest thing is, you have got to believe you can win. I can walk on saying it, but you have really got to believe it… It will be one to savour for maybe after the tournament, to tell the kids and grandkids that you beat the World No. 1. It is a nice one.”
Evans then downed David Goffin to reach the semi-finals, before Stefanos Tsitsipas stopped him advancing any further.