ATP Finals Day 1 Preview: The Tournament Begins with a Rematch of Last Year’s Final - UBITENNIS
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ATP Finals Day 1 Preview: The Tournament Begins with a Rematch of Last Year’s Final

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Stefanos Tsitsipas starts his title defense today in London (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

For the twelfth and final time, the ATP Finals will be staged at London’s O2 Arena.  And due to the pandemic lockdown, it will be held without fans.

 

Round-robin play commences today.  After three rounds, the top two players from each group of four will advance to Saturday’s semifinals.  Group London play their first matches today, which consists of Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal, US Open champion Dominic Thiem, defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, and the ATP’s winningest player in 2020, Andrey Rublev.  Tomorrow, Group Tokyo will take the court, which features Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic, Paris Masters champion Daniil Medvedev, US Open finalist Sascha Zverev, and Rome Masters finalist Diego Schwartzman. 

A year ago at this event, Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated Dominic Thiem in an excellent championship match, decided by a third set tiebreak.  Today they will play the first singles match of the tournament, in their first meeting since last year’s final.  During the evening session, Rafael Nadal will begin his tenth attempt at winning this elusive title, the most glaring omission on his amazing resume.  He’ll face Andrey Rublev, who is making his ATP Finals debut after leading the tour with five titles and 40 match wins this season.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas (6)

Despite his loss at the end of last year’s tournament, it was a great run for Thiem, who defeated both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic in round-robin play.  Also despite that loss, Dominic owns a 4-3 record against Tsitsipas, and a 3-2 edge on hard courts.  Thiem had a great year at the Majors in 2020: he was a quarterfinalist at Roland Garros, the runner-up in Melbourne, and won his first Slam at the US Open.  But outside the Majors, Dominic is a meager 5-5 this season.  He only played one event and three matches during the indoor hard court season, losing to Andrey Rublev in the quarterfinals of Vienna.  He did not play the Paris Indoors due to a foot blister, but has stated that’s no longer an issue.  Tsitsipas didn’t fare as well as Thiem at this year’s Slams, but has accumulated 28 match wins and reached three tour finals.  He went just 1-2 on indoor hard courts this past month, so neither player arrives with much momentum.  But in this battle of one-handed backhands, Tsitsipas should be slightly favored, as he’s the better player on indoor hard courts.  Four of his five career titles have come on indoor hard courts, while Thiem actually has a losing record in his career at this event.

Rafael Nadal (2) vs. Andrey Rublev (7)

This will be only their second career meeting, with the first taking place over three years ago.  In the quarterfinals of the 2017 US Open, Nadal dropped only four games to comfortably dismiss Rublev.  That was Andrey’s breakout Major.  A back injury the following year deterred his progress, but now he’s one of the ATP’s most reliable performers.  In addition to his five titles this year, he reached the second week at all three Majors.  And notably, four of his titles came on hard courts.  While Nadal’s 2020 highlight of course was winning his 20th Major at the French Open, he’s compiled an impressive 16-4 record this year on hard courts.  But this indoor hard court event at the end of the tennis calendar has been a struggle for Nadal.  He’s missed or retired from this tournament due to injury five of the last eight years.  And he hasn’t advanced out of the round-robin stage since 2015.  Facing this year’s best hard court player will not be an easy start.  Though Rublev will surely be nervous for ATP Finals debut, he’s won three of his last five matches against top five opposition (as per Tennis Abstract).  Those two losses were to Daniil Medvedev, a tricky matchup for Rublev due to their lifelong friendship.  So it would not be surprising to see Rublev pull off the upset on Sunday.  His game is better suited for these conditions than Nadal’s.

Other Notable Matches on Day 1:

Australian Open champions Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury (2) vs. Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo, who won two ATP titles this year.

Roland Garros champions Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies (3) vs. Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic (5), who lost to Krawietz and Mies in the Roland Garros semifinals.

Full order of play is here.

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Alexander Zverev Powers Past Erratic Nadal To Set Thiem Showdown

Alexander Zverev secured his best win of his career on a clay court by beating Rafael Nadal in Madrid.

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Alexander Zverev (@ATPTour_ES - Twitter)

Alexander Zverev powered past an erratic Rafael Nadal 6-4 6-3 to reach the semi-finals in Madrid.

 

After a slow start Zverev produced some stunning tennis to knock out the five-time champion Nadal, who had an error-prone day at the office.

The German will now play Dominic Thiem in the last four in a rematch from the 2018 final.

It was the 20-time grand slam champion who started off the fastest as he looked to target the Zverev forehand early with uncomfortable spins and heights.

Eventually Nadal would get his rewards for an accurate tactical game-plan as a Zverev double fault handed him the break.

However that advantage was to be short-lived as the first point of the seventh game would change the momentum of the match with Nadal putting in simple unforced errors especially on the forehand side.

The German took advantage as he used his backhand to dictate points from the baseline. Furthermore, Zverev used his superior net play to his advantage by shortening the points and creating a faster tempo.

An unusual first set from Nadal’s perspective was complete as the fifth seed reeled off four games in a row to seal the opening set 6-4.

At the start of the second set, the Spaniard tried to up his level and intensity as he used some drop-shots at unexpected moments and attempted to bring the crowd into the match.

Despite this Nadal’s return game was lacking its usual ferocity as he couldn’t capitalise on Zverev’s second serves.

There was a lack of confidence in the Spaniard when implementing effective patterns of play as Zverev had a lot of success dictating play and winning the baseline and net rallies.

Another break in the fifth game ensured that Zverev’s dominance was being rewarded.

Although a double break advantage was denied, Nadal couldn’t deny victory for Zverev as the German sealed his first clay court victory over the ‘King of Clay.’

After the match Zverev admitted it was one of the biggest wins of his career, “Definitely one of the biggest wins of my career so far, especially on clay against Rafa. It is the toughest thing to do in our sport,” Zverev said in an on-court interview.

“Beating him in his house, in Spain, is incredible but the tournament is not over yet.”

Lots to ponder for Nadal as an error-prone performance sees him looking to improve in Rome next week.

As for the German, he sets up a 2018 final rematch with Dominic Thiem in the last four as he secured his best victory on this surface of his career.

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Dominic Them reaches semifinal in Madrid after three-set battle with Isner

Dominic Thiem is into the Madrid semi-finals after an impressive three set win over John Isner.

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Dominic Thiem (@atptour - Twitter)

The Austrian booked his spot in the semifinals after coming back to beat the American in three sets.

 

Dominic Thiem needed one hour and 55 minutes to beat the world number 39 John Isner in three sets 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 hitting 20 winners in the win while his opponent hit 26 unforced errors.

“We all know that he is one of the best servers in history and this altitude in Madrid makes it even tougher to return his serve but I was a little bit surprised by his return games, I think he attacked both my first and second serves and it took me a while to get used to it and I think the match changed when I saved those three breakpoints in the second set”.

It was the American who got off to the faster start holding his opening service game and then going on the offensive earning a breakpoint the following game and taking an early 2-0 lead.

The Greensboro, North Carolina native had a chance to go up a double break but the world number four saved both breakpoints he faced and managed to hold his first service game of the match.

That break was enough for the American to serve out the first set and he was one set away from the semifinals.

The second set stayed on serve until 2-2 when the Dallas, Texas resident had four breakpoints but failed to convert and the match was starting to turn with the American looking gassed.

In the next game the Austrian had three breakpoint and converted for his first break of the match as he served out the second set to send it to a deciding third set.

Isner was put under pressure early in the third set facing a breakpoint in the first game of the set but managed to save it and hold serve and it stayed on serve until 4-4.

That’s when the world number four earned two chances to break and on the second time of asking he would break and served out the match to book a date with either Alexander Zverev or Rafael Nadal.

After his match in an on court interview he gave this thoughts on a potential matchup with either Nadal or Zverev.

“It’s going to be a good one, I’ve played two big matches here against Rafa ( Nadal) and one big match against Sascha ( Zverev), and against either one of them it’s going to be an incredible challenge and it’s going to be exciting tomorrow”.

With the loss today by Isner when the new rankings come out on Monday it will be the first time in the open era and since the rankings came out that an American will not feature in the top 30 players in the world.

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Past Cancellation Of Clay Events ‘Double Motivation’ For Norway’s Casper Ruud

The 22-year-old is on a roll after scoring his biggest win yet over Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Madrid Open.

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Last year’s decision to scrap a series of clay events due to the COVID-19 pandemic was a huge blow to the world of tennis but at the same time a blessing in disguise for Casper Ruud.

 

The world No.22 is enjoying a surge in his form on the Tour after reaching back-to-back semi-finals at the Monte Carlo Masters and Munich Open. Furthermore, this week at the Madrid Open Ruud achieved the biggest win of his career on Thursday after stunning Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6(4), 6-4. Registering his first ever win over a top five player on the Tour. He is yet to drop a set in the tournament.

Ruud partly credits his success on the clay to events that happened 12 months ago when he was unable to play on his favourite surface due to the pandemic. The French Open did take place but later in the year where he reached the third round.

“It was a part of the season last year that I was looking extremely forward to. I felt it was taken a bit away from not me but all the players when everything got postponed, some of the tournaments were cancelled,” Ruud said after his win over Tsitsipas.
“I think I just kept my motivation for a year and have double the motivation to be here this year luckily.’
“This (Madrid) was one of the tournaments that we didn’t get to play last year. I’m just trying to enjoy the moment and take care of the chances that I get.”

Growing up, the youngster trained at the Rafa Nadal Academy and says his time there has shaped how he plays today. Toni Nadal, who is the former mentor of Rafael Nadal, remains ‘involved’ in his tennis. Although the 60-year-old is now switching his focus to working with Felix Auger-Aliassime. Pedro Clar, who he met at the academy, is still a member of his team.

“Pedro Clar is the one that travels more often with me. We have a very good relationship. He’s here (in Madrid) this week,” said Ruud.
“He’s been with me at some of my biggest tournaments and wins. When I won my first tournament in Buenos Aires, my first semifinal in Rome last year, Pedro was with me. I think it’s helped me a lot.’
“Also getting help from Toni. Now Toni is helping Felix more personally. But he’s always involved with my tennis at some point in my career. Also Rafa, of course, he helped me a lot the last years.”

The next test for Ruud in Madrid will be Alexander Bublik who he beat in three sets in their only previous meeting back in 2019. Should he win again, the world No.22 would be through to his third consecutive Masters semi-final on the clay after Rome (2020) and Monte Carlo.

At the age of 22, Ruud has already become the highest ranked Norwegian player in ATP Tour history. Coincidentally the record was previously held by his father Christian who now his head coach. Following his latest win, he is set to break into the world’s top 20 for the first time on Monday.

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