Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

ATP Finals Preview: Can Rafael Nadal Break his Hoodoo at the O2?

Posted on 13 November 2020 by Sam Jacot

Co-written with Ben Thompson

The ATP Finals commence on Sunday and will be staged in London at the O2 Arena for the final time before moving to Turin.  

With the top eight men’s players set to go face to face, last year’s champion Stefanos Tsitsipas will look to defy the odds and overcome a leg injury to defend his title.

Featuring alongside Tsitsipas are headline acts Novak Djokovic – who will end the year as World Number One – and recent French Open champion Rafael Nadal.

They will be joined by US Open victor Dominic Thiem and Paris Masters winner Daniil Medvedev, with Alexander Zverev, Andrey Rublev and Diego Schwartzman making up the rest of a competitive field.

Scheduling and How to Watch

The eight players have been drawn into two groups of four. Each player will face their three group rivals once, with the top two in each group progressing to Saturday’s semi-finals. Standings are decided by the number of wins, and if two players have the same number, it will come down to head to head. 

From there, the two semi-final winners will go on to meet in the final. The doubles draw has the same format. 

The groups, named ‘London 2020’ and ‘Tokyo 1970’ are in commemoration of the tournament running for fifty years. Tokyo hosted the event in 1970 with London holding the event for a final time this year. 

During the group stage, running from Sunday 15 November to Friday 20 November and in the semi-finals on Saturday 21, there will be two singles matches a day.

The 2pm game which will be on both the BBC and Amazon Prime Video, while the 8pm game will be exclusive to Prime. 

The final then takes place on Sunday 22 at 6pm, live on BBC TV and Prime Video. 

Group London 2020

Embed from Getty Images

The draw for the event was made on Thursday evening and saw the second seed Nadal thrown in with the third seed Thiem, in group ‘London 2020’. Greek maverick Tsitsipas, who is seeded sixth, makes up an intriguing group alongside Rublev, who is seeded seventh at the tournament.

One blot on the otherwise perfect Nadal CV is the lack of an ATP Finals trophy. In his last two appearances in London, he has failed to even make it out of the group. If he is to win the cherished prize next week, he will have to firstly negotiate his way past both last year’s champion Tsitsipas and runner up Thiem. 

Regarding Tsitsipas and Thiem, both come into the tournament with concerns themselves. Tsitsipas crashed out in the second round at the Paris Masters at the start of November and failed to make it past the third round in the two hard court Grand Slams this year (US and Australian Open). 

For Thiem, he skipped Paris due to blister issues he suffered at his home event in Vienna, meaning he has played little hard court tennis since September.

Despite this though, the Austrian and Greek – who clash in the opening game of the tournament on Sunday – are more than capable of playing sensational tennis for prolonged periods of time, demonstrated by their results at this tournament last year. They can use this as encouragement as they gear up to face Nadal. 

Embed from Getty Images

Lastly, 23-year-old Rublev is the final name in what is a competitive group. The Russian is appearing at the World Tour Finals for the first time in his career and comes into the competition on the back of a really successful season in where he won five titles – the most of anyone in the draw. 

Rublev and Tsitsipas met at the semi-final stage of the Next Gen ATP Finals back in November 2018. Just two years later, they will face off at one of the sports greatest events. 

While Nadal and Thiem will be the favourites to emerge from the group, and into the semi-finals, all four will fancy their chances. 

Group Tokyo 1970

Embed from Getty Images

Group ‘Tokyo 1970’ is a favourable group for Djokovic based on the seeding, as he is drawn against fourth seed Medvedev, fifth seed Zverev and eighth seed Schwartzman. 

The tournament’s top seed is a five-time ATP Finals champion, and he will be determined to add a sixth trophy to his collection. Djokovic may not have won the competition since 2015 but the Serb has been utterly dominant in 2020, losing only three times in an albeit shortened season due to the impact of COVID-19.

Medvedev did not have any success at this event last year, losing all three of his group stage matches. The Russian comes into London this year in great form on the back of his victory in the Paris Masters, where he beat fellow group member Zverev in the final.

Zverev is likely to have a lot of confidence about his chances; the German won the event in 2018 where he defeated Djokovic in the final. He also beat Medvedev in the group stage in last year’s edition, which means advancing out of the group stage will be a bare minimum expectation for Zverev, who will be looking to go deep in the tournament again.

The last member of group ‘Tokyo 1970’ is another player making his ATP Finals debut in Diego Schwartzman, despite him not winning a single tournament in 2020.

What the Argentinian player lacks in height he makes up for in his incredible groundstrokes and immaculate timing, and he remains a dangerous player who deserves to be taking part. He has surprised tennis fans countless times this season, most notably with his win against Nadal on the clay in Rome, and he has the talent to cause more shocks in London.

Embed from Getty Images

Djokovic will be the favourite to win his group, yet he only holds slight head-to-head leads over Medvedev (4-2) and Zverev (3-2). While Schwartzman is yet to defeat either Djokovic or Medvedev in his career it would still be unwise to rule him out, making for a fascinating group.

Doubles

The doubles draw, which includes the eight best teams in 2020, has been finalised, as the all-British pairing of Jamie Murray and Neil Skupski were ultimately unable to sneak into the tournament this week due to Jürgen Melzer and Édouard Roger-Vasselin’s results in Sofia. 

There will still be a Brit taking part as Joe Salisbury will be competing in the event with his American partner Rajeev Ram.

Roger Federer Absent

Embed from Getty Images

Sadly, in many ways, London will not get the swansong it so richly craved. This is due to the fact that there will be no fans inside the stands – with the UK in a national lockdown – and there will be no Roger Federer down below on the court, with the Swiss superstar out of action until 2021 because of recent knee surgery.

However, despite this, the draw is full of players who are great characters that have quality running through their veins. With fireworks set to be on display on the court, make sure you tune in to watch the ATP Finals from Sunday.