It’s not often that an alternate steps into the fray at the Nitto ATP Finals and has the chance to make an immediate impact. But that’s exactly the opportunity that awaits Pablo Carreno Busta on Wednesday in London.
Carreno Busta will be thrown into the cauldron under the bright lights and vibrant atmosphere at The O2, with a spot in the semi-finals still very much up for grabs. The Spaniard entered the tournament when countryman Rafael Nadal withdrew due to a right knee injury.
“I dreamt a lot of times to be here and play,” said Carreno Busta on Tuesday. “I think it’s a big opportunity for me. I will try to do my best. I think I have no pressure, nothing to lose. I will try to enjoy and to learn, and to win of course.”
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The fourth alternate to feature at The O2, since the Nitto ATP Finals moved to London in 2009, Carreno Busta is bidding to become just the second to win a match there. In 2011, Janko Tipsarevic stunned fellow Serbian Novak Djokovic after replacing Andy Murray.
Alternates At The O2
Carreno Busta opens his bid to crash the semi-final party when he faces Dominic Thiem in Wednesday’s night session. There will be no secrets when the Spaniard and the Austrian square off, having met on six previous occasions in their pro careers.
The World No. 10 took a final encounter at the ATP Challenger Tour event in Como, Italy, in 2013, but Thiem has since reeled off four straight victories at the tour-level. Their lone hard-court meeting came in the third round of the 2016 US Open, won by Thiem in four sets. The 24-year-old also prevailed in the title match of the Rio Open presented by Claro earlier this year.
Carreno Busta enters their latest encounter on the heels of a career-year on the ATP World Tour, boasting a 36-24 win-loss mark, a title on the clay of Estoril and impressive semi-final finishes at both the US Open and BNP Paribas Open. With the opportunity to add another signature moment, he knows exactly what is at stake against Thiem.
“I need to be very aggressive,” added Carreno Busta, who will also face Grigor Dimitrov on Friday. “I need to play my game, to serve good. He is very good with his forehand, and also with the backhand down the line. I need to be focused all the time, to be very positive, and fight.
“Normally the alternates here can play the last match. But I have the opportunity to play two matches, and also to be in the semi-finals. I need to be focused on the match against Thiem. I think it will be very tough.”
With Thiem in danger of falling to 0-2 in Group Pete Sampras, the pressure will be ratcheted up. He dropped a tight opener to Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 5-7, 7-5 on Monday, but will be bolstered by his performance against the Bulgarian and his experience advantage at the season-ending championships. The Austrian is making his second appearance in London, following a 1-2 campaign last year.
One key area to keep an eye on will be Thiem’s success against the Carreno Busta serve. He made significant in-roads on the Spaniard’s delivery in their four FedEx ATP Head2Head battles, seizing a combined 18 of 39 break chances. The fourth seed is focused on the task ahead.
“There are two more matches, two more chances,” said Thiem. “I think it’s just over when I cannot reach the semi-finals anymore, and when I also cannot calculate it any more. That’s all I think about now. I will just focus on myself and obviously try everything to win the match on Wednesday, to still have a shot for the semi-finals.”