Deputy Sport Editor Rose Annable discusses this week's ATP Finals which will conclude this year's men's tennis tour and gives the lowdown on who she expects to triumph.
This week marks the crowning tournament in the ATP tour – the ATP finals, in which the top eight players of the season face off in the hopes of winning arguably the biggest tournament outside of the Grand Slams. Taking place for the final time in London before it moves to Turin next year, this year is also the 50th anniversary of the tournament taking place, and whilst it is a shame that is happening behind closed doors, we are fortunate it is going ahead at all, given the second lockdown in England. The qualifiers this year are Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev and Diego Schwartzman, so without further ado, let’s examine each man’s chances to win one of the most coveted titles in the sport.
Novak Djokovic in my eyes stands the clear favourite to win the title. He has already been crowned the year end number one for the 6th time, matching Pete Sampras’ record, and he has won this tournament five times before, though in 2018 he lost to Zverev in the final, and failed to get out of the group stage in 2019. He will also likely be somewhat disappointed in the second half of his season, failing to win either the US Open or the French Open, losing quickly to Nadal in the final in Paris. That being said, his place in the semi-finals looks fairly secure, with winning records over Medvedev, Zverev and Schwartzman, the other players in his group. Indeed, I would be surprised to see him miss out on yet another final, though he does face some tough competition.
Many will see Nadal as his main rival for the title, considering Nadal’s ranking and standing in the game. That being said, this is Nadal’s 10th ATP finals, and he has not yet won the title, only reaching the finals twice in 2010 and 2013. Though he is of course a fantastic all-round player, he is not typically as comfortable playing on hard courts as he is on clay, something which puts him at a disadvantage compared to Djokovic. He also has a difficult group, particularly in having to face Dominic Thiem, one of the only players on tour capable of putting up a decent fight against Nadal in recent years. Though I still place Nadal slightly ahead of the other 6 contestants, I would not be confident of him beating Djokovic on an indoor hard court in the final.
Though Djokovic and Nadal are likely to be most people’s favourites for the final, do not be surprised if one of Medvedev, Thiem or Zverev pull off an upset. Though Medvedev did not get out of the group stage last year, losing all three of his matches, he has had a good end of the year, winning the Paris Masters, and is unlikely to be overawed by the situation. Zverev has had a similarly good end to his season – after reaching the finals of the US Open, before losing in an epic 5 setter to Thiem, there were concerns that he would have a dip in form. However, despite allegations of domestic abuse by one ex-girlfriend, and the announcement by another that she is having his child, he managed to win two tournaments back to back, before reaching the finals of the Paris Masters.
He has a strong record against Schwartzman, and is more than capable of defeating both Medvedev and Djokovic, but his unpredictability makes him something of a wildcard. Dominic Thiem has had a year to remember, winning his first Grand Slam in New York, and is the man I rate most likely to pull off a serious upset. This is mostly down to the fact that I see him as the only player not just capable of beating one of the top two, but likely to do it. Though Nadal has a winning record over him, Thiem consistently pushes Nadal to deciding sets and tiebreaks. They have not played against each other indoors, and only twice on hard courts, with Thiem winning most recently, at the beginning of the year at the Australian Open, and considering Thiem’s powerful groundstrokes, consistent serve and excellent returning, I would rate his chances of beating Nadal pretty highly.
This leaves Tsitsipas, Rublev and Schwartzman. Some may question why I have left the defending champion to the end of this list, but instinct tells me Tsitsipas is unlikely to win this year’s tournament. He has struggled somewhat since tennis returned in the summer, partially due to a leg injury which has hampered him since September. Aside from reaching the semi-finals of the French Open, he has not made much of a mark on the second half of the season, and I think is unlikely to reach the final this year. Rublev and Schwartzman are the least known players to qualify this year, both qualifying for the ATP finals for the first time. Rublev has had a breakout year, winning five titles and reaching quarterfinals at both the US Open and the French Open. Schwartzman has reached his first Masters final and the French Open semi-finals, as well as reaching the top 10 for the first time. Realistically, neither of them has the experience of having to play a series of matches against such high quality of opponents, and are more likely than the other 6 to be overawed by the situation. Both have done fantastically well to qualify, and I would not be surprised to see them qualify again in the future – indeed I suspect Rublev will qualify regularly in the future – but this year I suspect neither will advance beyond the group stages.