The final weekend of the ATP season is upon us and history will be made as either Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic will finish 2016. In 48 hours or so we’ll have that answer.
Or perhaps sooner, but that would take some upsets, which the trend line simply doesn’t agree with. Both Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori have huge hills to climb if they are to upset Murray and/or Djokovic.
So is anyone betting against a Murray-Djokovic winner-take-all final Sunday? Not me. On to my picks.
Andy Murray v Milos Raonic
It seems like almost every event Murray runs into Raonic, doesn’t it? Well, that because they do play a lot, and a lot in London. The two met in the Queen’s final, the Wimbledon final and now in the ATP year-end semis. And they were to have played a few weeks ago in the Paris semis before Raonic withdrew with a quad injury.
That withdrawal gave Murray the No. 1 ranking. Now Raonic can virtually take it away (assuming Djokovic wins later). But I don’t see happening quite that way.
Murray’s won 22 straight matches, which ties his career-best from earlier in the year, and he matches up well with Milos who just doesn’t have the variety or the leg speed to hurt the Scot in return games. And the court is quick, but not quick enough for Milos, I believe.
Plus, Murray leads 8-3 in their head-to-head winning the last seven. So maybe Milos toughs out a tiebreaker or Murray finally feels the pressure of No. 1, but it’s hard not to like Murray in this one.
If you are a Milos fan or just anti-Murray kind of lad, there’s some hope. Raonic said after Wimbledon he would watch the tape, correct the mistakes he made against Murray in that final. However, I never saw much from him in the Cincinnati semifinal and I really don’t know what he can cook up here to surprise Murray.
So if Murray serves well, plays solid defense like he did today, that should be enough. Raonic will have to serve huge, go on the attack and keep points short. He has that ability and he’s beaten Murray three times, I just don’t think he can pull it off with what’s at stake for the Scot.
“Milos obviously serves big, goes for his shots. He moves forward when he has the chance. I think he probably likes the conditions here since it’s a little bit quicker,” said Murray Friday. “You don’t normally get loads of opportunities against the big servers. It comes down to whether or you take them when you do get those chances. When I’ve played him this year, I’ve created a few opportunities. I’ll need to do the same tomorrow if I want to win.”
And I think he’ll have a few more opportunities tomorrow.
The pick: Murray in two
Novak Djokovic v Kei Nishikori
If it seems like almost every event…wait! Well, yes, Novak Djokovic and Kei Nishikori do play a lot. In fact, this will be their sixth meeting of the year! And all have gone to Djokovic, and really this rivalry has been one-sided since Nishikori shocked Novak in the 2014 US Open semifinals.
Since then, Djokovic has dominated winning 9 straight over the Japanese, losing just three total sets. And that run includes a drubbing at the ATP Finals last year when Djokovic destroyed Nishikori 6-1, 6-1.
I’m not expecting that, not at all. Rather, I like how Kei’s played this week against Wawrinka and Murray, though he faded today against Cilic in what was a meaningless match in terms of this event. So I expect a much tougher affair tomorrow.
“I just tried to focus today’s match,” said Nishikori following his loss today to Cilic. “Unfortunately, it was a tough loss. But hope I can play better tomorrow. I will try to think tonight or tomorrow what I have to do to beat Djoko. I mean, I’m obviously not playing bad.”
No, your not Kei, but in this matchup, Djokovic is just too strong in every department, even Kei’s strength – the backhand. So if Djokovic plays well like he’s been doing and playing with confidence, he’ll win. Meanwhile, Nishikori will really have to serve big to get free points and keep Djokovic off balance with his aggression and court positioning.
But this weekend I think Djokovic has the motivation of putting the personal issues in the past and getting back to winning. So far he’s done just that and now he also has the No. 1 ranking which is squarely on his racquet.
“That’s obviously something that you wish for, I mean, as a player, to have, I guess, everything in your hands, not to depend on other players,” Djokovic said Thursday. “In this particular case, I’m glad that it’s like that.
“Everything has been going, as I said, in a positive direction,” he added. “I’ve been playing better and better as I proceed in the tournament. I have now a day of rest. I’m looking forward really. It’s the last couple matches of the year hopefully. One thing is for sure: I’m going to give it all on the court and see what happens.”
The pick: Djokovic in two
Could we really get a Raonic-Nishikori final? Haha. Stranger things have happened, but I just don’t see it. Granted it’s been a messed up, if not forgettable tennis season for many fans with Sharapova’s doping bust, Federer’s knee, Rafa’s wrist and the weather issues. So missing out on a dream final would almost be a fitting conclusion tot 2016. And we know the tennis gods can be cruel. But not that cruel. At least I don’t think.
Tennis Channel has live coverage of Murray-Raonic at 9am ET and then Djokovic-Nishikori at 3pm ET.
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