Milos Raonic d. Dominic Thiem 7-6(5), 6-3
Before this de facto quarter-final, Raonic had expressed his desire to play on "my terms", and have Thiem "react to the things I put forward and try to push him around." Indeed, when a player with Raonic's arsenal intends to dictate proceedings, it's very difficult to stop him from doing so, and Thiem was starved of opportunities throughout.
The Austrian got to deuce only once on Raonic’s serve, and although he did forge 4-2 ahead in the first set tiebreak, Raonic responded with the kind of composed tennis we have come to expect from him, wresting control away from his opponent before taking the opener with his 11th ace.
All in all, the Canadian hit 13 aces, 31 winners, didn’t face a single break point and broke twice in the decider. Thiem went toe-to-toe with him at times, but ultimately couldn’t withstand Raonic’s fearsome artillery for long enough to prevent him from reaching the semi-finals.
“I did a lot of things quite well today,” said Raonic of his performance.
“I stepped up when I had an opportunity in the tiebreak. I stepped up at the beginning of the second set and the end of it.
“There's a lot definitely to be proud of, playing under that kind of pressure, 'cause I really wanted to get out of the group stages and I wanted to give myself a chance in the semifinals.”
Verdict: With John McEnroe temporarily back in his box, Raonic produced a performance that was reminiscent of his showings at Wimbledon this summer.
Indeed, London has been good to the Canadian this year - as he pointed out, he’s only lost to world No.2s in the capital - and things could be about to get a lot better.
After suffering a post-Wimbledon lull, Raonic has found motivation in the form of the race for year-end No.3 ranking, and it will take some performance to prevent him from reaching the final.
Novak Djokovic d. David Goffin 6-1, 6-2
“Yesterday I was feeling a little bit on holiday, and all of a sudden somebody tells you, you have to play in front of 15,000 people against Novak.”
When David Goffin put it like that, it was difficult not to feel sympathetic given the scale of the task that had befallen him.
Having been officially informed that Gael Monfils was withdrawing from the competition on Wednesday evening, the Belgian had little in the way of preparation time - both mentally and physically - before taking on the world No.2.
He did produce a few moments of magic - most notably a precision lob that earned Djokovic’s approval - but was understandably unable to find any sort of rhythm on his groundstrokes, and as such never truly troubled his opponent.
Indeed, Djokovic was only really unsettled by a time violation warning midway through the set, but nonetheless cantered to victory in 69 minutes.
“Regardless of who is across the net, I knew what I had to do, in which way I can raise the level of performance, which I did today,” he said.
“I'm very glad that my game is going in the right direction. Today I felt the most comfortable, definitely, so far in the tournament.
“I'm looking forward, definitely, to the semi-finals on Saturday.”
Verdict: It’s little wonder that Djokovic is looking forward to the semi-finals. He hardly over-exerted himself here - his entire match was around 16 minutes shorter than the first set of Andy Murray's first set against Kei Nishikori - and he can also enjoy a rest day before Saturday’s proceedings.
Before the tournament, it seemed that Djokovic was relinquishing the No.1 ranking without much of a fight. As it is, Murray currently trails Djokovic by 70 points, and the Serbian could finish the year back on top if Stan Wawrinka prevails over Murray in straight sets on Friday.
The battle for No.1 is as much in Djokovic's hands as it is Murray's, and all of a sudden the Serbian looks to be in the driving seat...
Goffin didn't have much cause for cheer against Djokovic, but this passage of play was certainly worth his wait...
Question: It looks like it might come down to the final weekend for No.1. How do you see that playing out between Novak and Andy? Who is your pick?
Djokovic [from the back of the room]: Be careful what you say now. I heard the question (laughter).
Goffin: I would say Andy, for sure (laughter).