ATP Finals Preview: Youngsters Try To Keep Title From Favorites Djokovic, Nadal

by Sean Randall | November 14th, 2020, 8:10 pm
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An abbreviated 2020 season comes to a close this week at the ATP Finals which will be played in London for a last time.

Because of the rankings freeze, the field is not much different than last year with Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal along with former champions Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev returning.

US Open champ Dominic Thiem and Paris winner Daniil Medvedev also are back.

Just two new faces — Diego Schwartzman and Andrey Rublev — will make their debut after Roger Federer withdrew (he would have qualified!) and Matteo Berrettini didn’t earn enough points to make 8-man field.

There is no No. 1 intrigue as Djokovic has taken care of that. But what is interesting is the ATP Finals hasn’t been won by Djokovic or any of the Big 3 in FIVE YEARS! While they seem to win everywhere else, London has been a problem (they are just 2-5 in the last four years once they make the semifinals). As they age, maybe by mid-November these elder legends are gassed a bit, who knows. However, this year because of the pandemic break, they should come in fresher than ever.

But the ATP Finals has been a young man’s event of late with Tsitsipas, Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov having won the last three editions. Fresh legs = fresh heads = success?

Still, one would have to make Djokovic and Nadal the favorites. But will they meet in a rematch of their French final a week from tomorrow? I doubt it.

On to my picks for this fanless Finals.

Of the two groups, I’d rate London 2020 the tougher only because there’s no easy opponent like a Schwartzman. You can easily make a case for any of them. All have credentials, all could win the title and all have collected big wins post-return.

Nadal, though, has never won this title, hasn’t made the final in seven years and historically struggles indoors. But he’s Rafa!

Thiem just won the US Open, made the finals coming within inches of taking the title last year.

Tsitsipas is the defending champion but hasn’t been up to par in 2020.

And Rublev has been playing Top 3 tennis since the return in August.

I think a lot hinges tomorrow with Thiem-Tsitsipas and Nadal-Rublev, with those winners getting through to the weekend.

Dominic Thiem (2-1): Group winner topples Tsitsipas and Rublev. Has played just 8 matches since NYC so should be unusually fresh. Though, one could argue that’s not a good thing for him.
Andrey Rublev (2-1): Stays red hot and if the court is quick, indoors should be a boon for the 23-year-old.
Rafael Nadal (1-2): Didn’t look great in Paris last week and we know his issues indoors — 15 years ago 2005 Madrid his lone indoor European title.
Stefanos Tsitsipas (1-2): Just 1-2 after French SF, so I don’t think his confidence is where it needs to be for his biggest title defense. But the kid can surely rise up and meet the challenge.

I’m going to rule out Schwartzman (sorry Diego) and put Djokovic in the semifinals. So that leaves the Monday winner between Medvedev and Zverev getting to the weekend. And with this domestic abuse issue swirling around the German, I’m going to go with Medvedev to win on Monday and beat Schwartzman on Friday to reach the final four.

I think Djokovic sweeps but he’ll see the Russian again.

Novak Djokovic (3-0): Diego gets him into form on Monday, and follows with wins over Medvedev then Zverev.
Daniil Medvedev (2-1): Appears to have regained his confidence, an ominous sign for his opponents.
Alexander Zverev (1-2): Despite the off court issues, former champion has really played well down the stretch, but I don’t think he keeps it going. Or, maybe he feeds off that adversity.
Diego Schwartzman: Tough group to make a debut. And he might not be back.

Djokovic d Rublev: A tough semifinal, but Rublev’s run ends in three sets.
Medvedev d Thiem: Medvedev the better player indoors on a quick court.

Medvedev d Djokovic: Tough beating a quality guy twice in four days, and I think Medvedev rises to the occasion.

The number one thing about this event is that we all should be thankful that it’s happening at all (and hope that it finishes). So thank your lucky stars!

And it’s unfortunate that the event is not a true indication of the best players on the year with the frozen rankings, scheduling issues and cancelled events. But it’s what we got.

The groups are well-balanced and, as I said, everyone should be fit, healthy and hungry for one last title, one last paycheck. And for all of them — there is no Davis Cup or likely exo tour afterward — this is it until January (fingers crossed that happens).

So enjoy it while we can! Fifteen matches to go…

Matches start Sunday on Tennis Channel in the U.S.

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