The Nitto ATP Finals, the 2nd most decorated and prestigious tournament on the tennis calendar after the four Grand Slams, is just around the corner as world’s top eight players look to battle it out at London to be crowned as the champion of the year ending finals.
Roger Federer, the current World No. 5, who hasn’t played any tennis in this pandemic curtailed season since the Australian Open earlier this January, is the only player to miss out at this year’s season ending finals and this has allowed not one, but two players to make their debut at this year’s finals at the O2 arena.
Andrey Rublev, the young Russian, perhaps the man of this season, is set to make his debut at the year-ending finals on Sunday and will be joined by the Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman, the 28-year old who had a breakthrough year on the tour following his sensational semi-final run at Roland Garros earlier last month.
The Nitto ATP finals, whose inaugural edition was held back in 1970, is celebrating its 50 years of existence at this year’s event in London and it is really unfortunate and disappointing that the competition is going to be held behind the closed doors as a result of ongoing global pandemic. This is also the last year that the season ending finals will be held in London as the event is slated to move to Turin in Italy starting next year.
As far as the draws are concerned, Novak Djokovic headlines the Group Tokyo 1970 while his arch-rival Rafael Nadal leads the Group London 2020. The proceedings will get underway at the O2 arena on Sunday, November 15th as the opening day in English capital will feature the matches of Group London 2020.
Let’s look at the opening day matches at the O2 arena.
2020 Nitto ATP Finals Day 1 Preview
Match # 1: Dominic Thiem Vs Stefanos Tsitsipas
In a rematch of last year’s final, the reigning US Open champion Dominic Thiem will take on last year’s Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Post his glorious victory at New York, Thiem has appeared to be a subdued version of himself at the French Open and the Vienna Open, the only two events that the 27-year-old Austrian participated in since. While Thiem triumphed at New York earlier this September, that win appears to have come at a heavy cost as far the Austrian is concerned as he appeared to be physically tired and mentally exhausted at the French Open and the Vienna Open, especially at Paris. Having skipped the Paris Masters 1000 last week in a bid to stay healthy and fresh for the Nitto ATP Finals, one hopes to witness Thiem play at his full potential at O2 arena to recapture the magic that he displayed last year when he reached the finals beating Federer and Djokovic en route to the title clash.
While Tsitsipas was a finalist and semifinalist at Hamburg and Paris respectively on clay, the young Greek seemed to have lost his edge as he succumbed to early exits in Vienna and Paris. It remains to be seen if these recent losses cause a dent in Tsitsipas’ confidence or if they ignite a burning desire in the Greek, helping the defending champion to fire on all cylinders at the upcoming season-ending finals.
Thiem marginally leads their head to head tally 4-3 and is also in front 3-2 as far as their clashes on hard courts are concerned. Interestingly, their title clash at the Nitto ATP finals in 2019 was their last encounter against each other and also their only face-off so far on the indoor hard courts.
Thiem, we all know, is a big match player and Tsitsipas has built a reputation of being a giant killer. However, both these players are highly unpredictable and that makes their match-up an interesting affair to follow as they look forward to lock horns in the first match of the day on Sunday.
Match # 2: Rafael Nadal Vs Andrey Rublev
13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal will kickstart his Nitto ATP finals campaign this year against an exuberant, in-form Andrey Rublev.
The 23-year old Russian has won five titles so far this year, the highest number of titles won by any player in 2020 and appears to be more than ready to embrace his biggest test so far as he takes on the World No. 2 in his opening round robin contest at London.
The 34-year old Spaniard hasn’t won the Nitto ATP finals title so far in his illustrious career despite making the finals on two occasions in the past (2010 and 2013) and having played less tennis than usual this year owing to pandemic, Nadal, who is fresh and injury-free, has a greater chance to win at this year’s season ending finals as compared to previous years. Nonetheless, indoor hard court is Nadal’s least favourite surface and only two of Nadal’s 86 career titles have come on indoor surfaces.
At the recently concluded Paris Masters 1000, Nadal appeared jaded and rusty throughout the tournament and eventually crashed out in straight sets in the semifinals against Alexander Zverev. The conditions at the O2 arena would be almost similar as Bercy and Nadal would need to find quick solutions to his struggles on indoor hard courts if he fancies changing his fortunes at the season ending finals this year.
As far as Rublev is concerned, he has been having a coming an age year in 2020 and his qualification for the season ending finals for the first time ever in his career this year is a testimony to his hard work and his willingness to add new skills and layers to his game.
If Rublev can mange to keep his nerves in check without getting bogged down by the occasion, the in-form Russian can be a serious threat to the Spaniard and it would be intriguing to witness how Nadal copes up against Rublev’s clean ball striking.
Interestingly, Nadal and Rublev have just met once so far on the tour. At the quarter-final of US Open in 2017, Nadal schooled Rublev 6-1, 6-2, 6-2, who was just a teenager back then.
Learning from his mistakes against Zverev, Nadal would aim to come up with a much-improved service game against Rublev in order to avoid playing catching up. On the other hand, just as Nadal, Rublev is coming off from a loss against Stan Wawrinka and would hope that it was just a minor dip in what has been a truly remarkable run for Rublev since the tour resumed earlier in August.
In spite of his recent loss against Zverev, Nadal still starts a slight favourite against Rublev and it would be intriguing to witness a battle of generations as Nadal would look forward to use his experience to tame Rublev’s exuberance in their opening round-robin encounter at the O2 arena.
Main Photo from Getty.