Nitto ATP finals (Turin) – semifinals & final

Alexander Zverev d. Daniil Medvedev    6-4, 6-4    [1:15 h]
Medvedev began to play his best tennis when he was trailing 4-6, *0:2… prior to that moment he had hit just 1 winner! I suppose he was a victim of that what I thought in the middle of his 3rd set vs Sinner. He plays a type of tennis which requires a lot of energy, and he paid the price for three tight three-setters at the round robin stage. Admittedly he defeated Ruud rather easily in the semifinal, but the accumulation of that victory and three preceding ones, probably caused his decision to try saving the energy for a potential 3rd set vs Zverev. When he decided to step up at 0:2 in the 2nd set, it was too late. Zverev converted his first match point with a second serve ace (in ten service games he played ‘deuce’ only once). He has won 5 titles this year (59 matches, more than anyone else), just like the finest player in the world – Djokovic, but the Serb won three majors while Zverev’s two biggest titles (Olympics & Masters) are one level below. The German of the Russian origin is 10 years younger than the Serb, so my bet is that he will finish as no. 1 the next season in which he finally should raise his first major trophy, he’s good enough to actually conquer each of four Slams, not within a season though. “It is special, and I am super thrilled and happy right now,” Zverev added. “There is no better way to end the season than winning here. I am incredibly happy and I am already looking forward to next year.” Stats of the match
Points won directly behind the serve: Zverev 20/54 (37%), Medvedev 18/58 (31%)… Total points: 61-51
Alexander Zverev d. Novak Djokovic    7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3    [2:28 h]
These two players have faced each other in all biggest hardcourt events this year: Djokovic won their major matches (3-1 in Australia, 3-2 in the USA) while Zverev was better at the Olympics and at Masters (2-1 on each occasion). Only in Australia it was a quarterfinal, another three matches occurred in the semifinals. It was rather obvious that Zverev would defeat Djokovic indoors, only if he delivered his best service performance… and it happened in Turin. In the 1st set there was a set point for the Serb as he led 5:4* – Zverev responded with a service winner followed by another one (223 kph second serve!). The crucial break came as he led 2:1 in the 3rd set. The German finished the contest with an ace down the T to hold at ‘love’. “He’s one of the best servers in the world… He showed tonight why that is a fact. He got himself out of trouble a few times with [his] serve,” Djokovic said. “I was serving pretty good, as well. I just had the one very bad game in the third set. Three forehands, one backhand unforced error, really from pretty easy positions. [I] just really wasted the match in that game. Even though I thought it was quite even, had some chances to come back, 2:4 in the third, just missed again, a forehand long (on break point).” Stats of the match
Points won directly behind the serve: Zverev 39/96 (40%), Djokovic 39/92 (42%)… Total points: 98-90
Daniil Medvedev d. Casper Ruud    6-4, 6-2     [1:19 h]
They had played before hardcourt outdoors (Australia) & grass (England), and on both occasions Medvedev left the court as a convincing victor. On hardcourt indoors in Italy the situation was the same… maybe on his beloved clay, Ruud would win at least a set. The Norwegian wanted to be aggressive, he risked his second serve at 1-all (deuce) in the opener, committed a double fault and it was the beginning of his end; Medvedev was better in each department, no signs of fatigue after his three demanding group matches. “As soon as you are a set and a break up you feel like you are in control, but that is when the danger is,” Medvedev said in his on-court interview. “You need to stay focused and fight for every point. In the last game I had 0/30 on my serve, and until the last point, it is never over. So I am happy I was able to finish it.” He added: “Just three of us left here, so I am looking forward to a great match tomorrow no matter who I play. I had a few tough matches against Novak lately and a few tough matches against Sascha and one here this week, so it is going to be interesting.” I assume when Ruud retires, the ‘Masters’ semifinal will be one of a few highlights of his career. I rather doubt that he’s going to take part in this event next year.
Points won directly behind the serve: Medvedev 12/47 (25%), Ruud 13/62 (20%)… Total points: 62-47
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

Nitto ATP Finals (Turin) – Day 5 & 6

Green Group – day 6
Novak Djokovic d. (alt.)Cameron Norrie    6-2, 6-1    [1:06 h]
An exhibition match actually, but this last ’round robin’ meeting wasn’t similar to yesterday’s between Medvedev & Sinner at all. The difference in skills between Djokovic & Norrie is huge, and their first meeting reflected it. The Serb got an early break and was doing on court whatever he wanted being very relaxed. Great experience for Norrie after a tremendous season anyway. I don’t expect to see him in the Top 20 twelve months from now. “I tried not to think about tomorrow’s semi-final,” Djokovic said in his on-court interview. “It is not easy to walk on the court knowing you have already qualified and you know your opponent. I tried to be professional and I tried to give my best and I played really well. It was the first time we have played each other. I took the time away from Cameron. I analysed his game and knew the game plan and executed it very well.” Djokovic’s 14th appearance in the season-ending event, and for the 11th time he will play in the semifinals.
Points won directly behind the serve: Djokovic 11/38 (28%), Norrie 7/51 (13%)… Total points: 56-33
Casper Ruud d. Andrey Rublev    2-6, 7-5, 7-6(5)    [2:23 h]
Informal quarterfinal – the winner goes to the semifinal… Rublev was a big favourite having defeated Ruud in all their four previous meetings, including three on Ruud’s best surface – clay. Early on the Russian confirmed his superiority in their H2H, 6-2, *2:1 (40/15)… he lost his serve though, threw his racquet and it was the beginning of bad things to come for him. Ruud did the same what in his previous match vs Norrie – increased the speed of 1st and 2nd serves, and was trying to be more aggressive with his forehand running around his backhand on many occasions. He came back from a break down also in the decider (2:3), saved a mini-match point at 5-all, and fired two aces when it mattered the most on ad-court: first at 4:3 (down the T), then at 6:5 (out-wide). “The court is playing very fast and Andrey plays very fast,” Ruud said in his on-court interview. “He rips the ball harder than anyone on the Tour and serves very well on his first serve. We all want to play under control and with initiative, but it is not easy against Rublev because he makes you run all the time and play defensively all the time. I knew I had to fight fire with fire. On the big points I think I played quite smartly.” Ruud has won all his three matches this year which gone to the deciding 3rd set tie-break.
Points won directly behind the serve: Ruud 30/116 (25%), Rublev 36/92 (39%)… Total points: 98-110
Red Group – day 5
Daniil Medvedev d. (alt.)Jannik Sinner    6-0, 6-7(5), 7-6(8)    [2:29 h]
On paper it was a semi-exhibition encounter because regardless of the final outcome, Medvedev had secured the first place in his group while Sinner couldn’t advance to the semifinals. Sinner began poorly, but playing in front of the supporting crowd, he wanted to stay on the court as long as possible showing positive emotions in the 1st game of the 2nd set, and the match was tense since then to its conclusion two hours later. There was 5-all in the first tie-break when Medvedev chose a surprising solution and delivered a technical serve attacking the net (the previous five TB points he obtained with powerful serves) sending his block-volley wide. The decider was very intriguing: Sinner led 4:2* when Medvedev proposed an extremely fast game on his serve. He held after a few deuces playing at full speed 1st & 2nd serves. It changed the rhythm a bit, and a bunch of Sinner’s errors allowed Medvedev to break back. In the deciding tie-break, the young Italian had two match points on return: 6:5 (Medvedev’s second unreturned serve 201 kph!) & 8:7 (Medvedev’s FH drive-volley winner). Trying to save the second match point, Sinner was perhaps too passive during a baseline rally, and the Russian hit a backhand down the line winner.
Points won directly behind the serve: Medvedev 46/102 (45%), Sinner 21/104 (20%)… Total points: 111-95
Alexander Zverev d. Hubert Hurkacz    6-2, 6-4    [1:02 h]
A match to be quickly forgotten. Admittedly Hurkacz could give his all, win it after a tough battle, and still didn’t qualify to the semifinals (on the assumption he wins, Medvedev must have defeated Sinner to push the Pole to the last four), but there are 200 ATP points (more or less like advancing to a small ATP final) & prestige anyway. Unfortunately the Pole played it like he didn’t care, especially in the first ten minutes – the 1st set he played in a 70/80% mode, the 2nd in 80/90% – the score reflected it. Zverev went through the match actually not being threatened on his serve (one ‘deuce’ in nine service games). “I have played Novak in every single big hard-court tournament this year,” Zverev said about his upcoming semifinal against Djokovic “We are making a habit of playing in the later rounds at big tournaments. It is going to be an entertaining one I think.” Hurkacz has finished the event with a 1-6 record in sets (no chance to win any of those six lost), I don’t expect him to participate in this event again. I doubt that he would end up the 2022 season in the Top 20.
Points won directly behind the serve: Zverev 27/48 (56%), Hurkacz 17/54 (31%)… Total points: 61-41
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

Nitto ATP Finals (Turin) – Day 3 & 4

Green Group – day 4
Casper Ruud d. (alt.)Cameron Norrie    1-6, 6-3, 6-4    [1:51 h]
It’s only the second time in the 52-year-old tournament history, that two alternates appear at ’round robin’ stage with chances to reach the semifinals (previously it happened in 1998 when Rios & Agassi, after their first matches, were replaced by A.Costa & Rusedski). Norrie has replaced Tsitsipas (elbow injury) and very interesting situation all of a sudden: either of  players who seemed to me like potential whipping boys (Norrie had chances to qualify until Paris-Bercy), will have at least one victory… I estimate them at very similar technical-mental level, so Ruud’s 6-0, 6-2 over Norrie in the San Diego final a few weeks ago it was a very surprising scoreline as well as their 1st set in Turin which lasted only 30 minutes. Ruud remained cool with the recent memory of their San Diego match, increased the speed of his serves and his break point chances came – he converted them when led 4:3 in 2nd and at 2-all in 3rd. In the last two sets Ruud didn’t face a break point, he was forced to play ‘deuce’ on serve only in the last game after Norrie had withstood a triple match point.
Points won directly behind the serve: Ruud 24/71 (33%), Norrie 18/83 (21%)… Total points: 78-75
Novak Djokovic d. Andrey Rublev    6-3, 6-2    [1:08 h]
Prior to Turin, Djokovic had faced all the best players born in the 90s except Rublev (not counting a Davis Cup match in doubles two years ago) and Norrie, so I was curious how he’d deal within three days with the fury of baseline strokes of the ginger Russian and an enormous patience of the Scottish Brit. Rublev stormed early, breaking in the opening game, but as the match progressed he was gradually wilting. Djokovic used only one dropshot in the entire match, but his basic strokes were efficient enough to turn Rublev into an error machine, besides that the Serb looked as fresh as a daisy, and he was obtaining points directly behind the serve with astonishing frequency second match running. Djokovic, who has already secured the pole position, admitted: ” Winning the first set I put additional pressure on him, and I started to maybe play more consistently from the back of the court. I served well [and] that helped tremendously.”
Points won directly behind the serve: Djokovic 26/48 (54%), Rublev 12/52 (23%)… Total points: 60-40
Red Group – day 3
(alt.)Jannik Sinner d. Hubert Hurkacz    6-2, 6-2    [1:25 h]
Tuesday… Only four hours before this match it was officially confirmed what I had actually known already on Sunday evening – Sinner replaces the follow Italian, Berrettini. In the 21st Century, before Sinner (20.5) only two younger players had taken part in the season ending event: Lleyton Hewitt (19.9) and Juan M. Del Potro (20.3). Sinner entered the event having lost six straight sets, I knew he would’t lose eight, but it was also tough to expect such a beat-down of Hurkacz. The Pole played pretty good first set, but lost it badly in terms of the score and seemed overwhelmed by the crowd supporting Sinner. Once Hurkacz dropped his serve at 1-all in the 2nd set, the match was basically over because the Pole doesn’t change anything in his game when he is down, he may only count on the opponent’s lapse of concentration. In this case it couldn’t happen because Sinner was constantly stimulated by the crowd and an opportunity to finish the season in the Top 10 opening a door for the semifinal corridor. “I knew around 5 (p.m.) that I would play,” Sinner said. “I was ready to go on court. It is an incredible feeling playing here in Italy with thousands of people cheering for you and I am trying my best. I will enjoy the moment. I played well and felt good in the warm up. It was an incredible match today.”
Points won directly behind the serve: Sinner 21/69 (30%), Hurkacz 13/47 (27%)… Total points: 68-48
Daniil Medvedev d. Alexander Zverev    6-3, 6-7(3), 7-6(6)    [2:35 h]
The 11th meeting of “Russian towers” (Zverev represents Germany, but his parents are Russians) and finally very tight encounter adequate to the serving power they possess. I expected a match like this, but the first three games made me wrong. It seemed like a continuation of their Paris semifinal on much slower surface, many rallies, break points in each game, and Medvedev established a 3:0 lead – no break of serve for another two hours of the match. In the first tie-break a linesman helped Zverev considerably calling Medvedev’s foot fault on his second serve at 1-all. In the 2nd tie-break Zverev led 4:2, but Medvedev was well focused and aggressive. He wasted a double match point, but at 6-all played a well-constructed point from the baseline and forced Zverev’s error on the third match point. It’s fifth consecutive Medvedev’s win over Zverev (all within the past twelve months). “Definitely one of the matches to remember,” Medvedev said. “When you win 8/6 in the tie-break in the third, it was 4:2 for him so I was like okay, he serves a few aces it’s done. I made it 6:4 and I was like okay, that’s my moment now. It’s back to 6:6, you get really tight, because I wanted to make a brave move on the 6:5 second serve and volley, didn’t work out at all.”
Points won directly behind the serve: Medvedev 37/107 (34%), Zverev 36/109 (33%)… Total points: 112-104
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

Nitto ATP Finals (Turin) – Day 1 & 2

Green Group – day 2
Andrey Rublev d. Stefanos Tsitsipas    6-4, 6-4    [1:31 h]
Last year they created the most dramatic match at the ’round robin’ stage (the Greek won 6-1, 4-6, 7-6), this time it was pretty one-sided meeting. Tsitsipas held the opening game after 10 minutes, Rublev already showed a good form in it, hitting the ground-strokes with more conviction. The Russian got his breaks at 2-all in both sets, and went through the match not facing a break point. He converted his first match point with a lucky net-cord winner. “I think these are the moments that we are practising for, that we are living for: to be here and to enjoy this atmosphere, to play great tennis and for the spectators to enjoy,” Rublev said in an on-court interview. “[All] I could do my best today, I did and I’m really happy.” Tsitsipas has lost 4 out of his last 5 matches, bad ratio for a guy who was No. 3 in the world this tear.
Points won directly behind the serve: Rublev 19/60 (31%), Tsitsipas 25/75 (33%)… Total points: 72-63
Novak Djokovic d. Casper Ruud    7-6(4), 6-2    [1:30 h]
Among all possible ’round robin’ matches, this match up had the least chance to go the distance, in my opinion. Ruud was a bit lucky in the opening game because when he created a break point, Djokovic stumbled having an initiative, and it certainly helped the Norwegian to get a 3:1* lead. At 4:5 Ruud withstood two set points, but he rarely wins SP-down sets, so even when he led 3:2 in the tie-break on serve, he was still “far away” from taking the set. In the 2nd set the Serb found his rhythm, he was playing looser as a receiver, increased the speed of his 1st serves and there was no equal play, basically. Ruud, who has the weakest serve among all ‘Masters’ participants this year, once delivered 3 aces in a row, then 2 in a row – it confirms – along with Djokovic’s staggering service efficiency – my yesterday’s observation that the surface is very fast. Djokovic said: “The conditions here are quite tough. If you lose your serve, it is difficult to get it back.”
Points won directly behind the serve: Djokovic 28/53 (52%), Ruud 15/69 (21%)… Total points: 72-50
Red Group – day 1
Alexander Zverev d. Matteo Berrettini    7-6(7), 1-0 ret.    [1:41 h]
Zverev was a better player overall before the tie-break, but the local-matador Berrettini could have stolen it anyway. The Italian had saved break points in three different games and put himself in a 6:5* (30/0) position having no chance in Zverev’s preceding five service games. There were two set points in that game, Berrettini missed two returns off his backhand, the first one must have been painful because Zverev delivered a conservative second serve – Berrettini decided to jump and lost his balance. In the tie-break he led *5:3 when missed his powerful forehand. Zverev needed three set points – on his third he played very long return towards Berrettini’s feet. The long set lasted 79 minutes, the Italian took a 5-minute toilet break afterwards. He physically seemed ok, but when he netted his forehand in the 2nd game to make its third deuce, he covered his face in the hands, it was a gesture of despair. He took a medical time-out (excruciating pain on the left side of his torso) but in vain. The first point after the break confirmed that he was unable to continue and retired in tears. “I thought the first set was incredibly high-level tennis. This is all not important,” Zverev said. “The most important thing is that both players at the end of the match can shake hands and are healthy.”
Points won directly behind the serve: Zverev 23/54 (42%), Berrettini 23/69 (33%)… Total points: 66-57 (56-51 first set)
Daniil Medvedev d. Hubert Hurkacz    6-7(5), 6-3, 6-4    [2:01 h]
A new chapter in the ‘Masters’ history. After twelve editions at the London 02 arena, the players moved to the Pala Alpitour in Turin – smaller venue than the one in London, but the colours on the court and around it has been preserved. The first match gave me an impression that the court in Italy is much faster than in England. Medvedev and Hurkacz faced each other this year at Wimbledon, I watched it in full, and I think the rallies were considerably longer there… Actually two poor service games of Hurkacz at the beginning of sets 2 and 3 separated them in Turin. The defending champion wasn’t forced to face a break point, the closest he was at 4:5 (15/30) in the opener, in the 2nd set there were two ‘deuce’ games on his serve. The Pole said: “It’s quite fast here. Daniil was serving great, I was serving decent apart from two games, it’s quite quick here.”
Points won directly behind the serve: Medvedev 37/89 (41%), Hurkacz 36/88 (40%)… Total points: 96-81
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

‘Nitto ATP finals’ 2021, Torino

1. Novak Djokovic (34, Serbia) – 14th appearance (9370 points)
– it’s a new chapter in career of the arguably greatest player ever; after so many years of experiencing tough battles against the best players born in the 80s, he recently tries to maintain the status of No. 1 facing the best players born in the 90s… apart from his first appearance in 2007 (exhausted at the end of a very demanding season), he’s been always a favourite to win the “Masters” title; I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t play in the semifinals this year
Strengths: actually everything to some extent, except the overhead
4. Stefanos Tsitsipas (23, Greece) – 3rd appearance (5695 points)
– along with Medvedev & Zverev, Tsitsipas has established himself as one of the three best players born in the second half of the 90s; he needs to win a major to consider him as a potential best player of this decade; next year should be crucial in terms of awareness of his place in tennis history once he’s retired… I don’t expect him in the Turin final, perhaps the semifinal, really depends on his first match vs Rublev
Strengths: forehand, second serve, footwork
Weaknesses: inability to close out sets/matches on a regular basis
5. Andrey Rublev (24, Russia) – 2nd appearance (4210 points)
– if Rublev is going to win at least one big title in his career, I think there’s no better opportunity than doing it at ‘Masters’… is he able to raise the trophy in 2021? I guess he’s only if he somehow avoids facing Djokovic in the final, and rather impossible in Rublev’s case to go through the event being unbeaten… even though the second part of the season was average for him, I think he has a good shot to go through to the semis, even to the final if he faces Berrettini/Hurkacz on Saturday next week
Strengths: ground-strokes
Weaknesses: second serve; nervousness, impatience & lack of plan B – it’s tough to expect him winning matches when he is trailing from a set down
8. Casper Ruud (23, Norway) – debut (3275 points)
– the first quarter of his career and he already enjoys a status of the best Norwegian player in history; he hasn’t played a Masters 1K final and a major quarterfinal yet, no-one before him managed to advance to the season-ending event without respectable results at the biggest stages… Ruud was obtaining valuable points this year mainly on clay-courts with the highlight in July when he claimed three ATP250 titles within three weeks (Bastad, Gstaad, Kitzbuhel)… I suppose he may end up with a similar ratio to Diego Schwartzman a year before, so just 1 set won and 6 lost
Strengths: footwork, persistence
Weaknesses: first serve, one-dimensional in conducting play
2. Daniil Medvedev (25, Russia) – 3rd appearance (7070 points)
– the second best player in the world given the past two years (since August ’19 to be precise), already fulfilled after capturing the US Open ’21 title; certainly he wants more, at least to overthrow Djokovic next year at the top – it won’t be easy because there are many (10-15?) good young players born between 1997 and 2003 who may beat him everywhere (less likely on hardcourts outdoors), and Medvedev struggles on clay-courts… big favourite to play in the Turin semifinals
Strengths: tactical self-conscience, ability to improvise when the things don’t go his way; first serve, defence
Weaknesses: nervousness, physical overheating – inability to win ‘best of five’ matches when the opponent has won two sets (it doesn’t matter this week)
3. Alexander Zverev (24, Germany) – 5th appearance (5955 points)
– similar case to Tsitsipas: the next season should be a career defining, he finally needs to win a major if he dreams about being the icon of the 20s… from technical standpoint he seems to have all the tools to make a huge statement in 2022, especially given two factors: his big experience despite the young age and twilight era of the Big 3
Strengths: first serve, ground-strokes
Weaknesses: inconsistency over the course of matches; he wastes too much energy before the final stages of events
6. Matteo Berrettini (25, Italy) – 2nd appearance (4090 points)
– I have to admit he surprised me this year, two years ago he made his Masters debut and I thought it’d be his first and last time among the tennis elite; he recently skipped Paris in order to be perfectly prepared for the event in front of the home crowd; tough to say how important it may be, but if he delivers his best tennis, with the help of the crowd he may beat everyone here… except Djokovic
Strengths: first serve, forehand, consistency in realising his basic game-plan
Weaknesses: backhand
7. Hubert Hurkacz (24, Poland) – debut (3315 points)
– Hurkacz becomes the second Pole to participate at Masters (following Wojtek Fibak who was also 24 in 1976 when reached the Houston final); the tall, rather clumsy Wroclaw native seemed like a Top 20 potential to me two years ago, yet he has somehow advanced to the Top 10 mainly thanks to his triumph in Miami & semifinal at Wimbledon; I assume it’s his first and last appearance in this prestigious event, he has a decent chance to reach the semifinal, considerably bigger than Ruud in my opinion
Strengths: backhand, versatility, consistency of keeping good level for ~two hours when he’s ahead
Weaknesses: passivity in return games, inability to turn matches around being on verge of defeat
9. Jannik Sinner (20, Italy) – debut, as an alternate (3015 points)
– so far the best player born in the 00s, is he good enough to be the first no. 1 born in the 21st Century? too early to predict, he needs to improve a few things in his technical repertoire… this season has confirmed that he usually deals very well with situations under pressure; if he gets more points directly behind the serve, he should be a Top 5 player (at least) soon
Strengths: ground-strokes, concentration at the end of tight sets
Weaknesses: net-play, insecurity when the crowd is against him (it happened this year vs Monfils in New York & Tiafoe in Vienna)
11. Cameron Norrie (26, Great Britain) – debut, 2nd alternate (2945 points)
– No. 11 Norrie came to Turin because No. 10 Nadal wasn’t interested in playing this event already when he was No. 6 in the Race (injury)… I was watching Norrie from time to time, and didn’t expect him even to enter the Top 20, yet he has become a very consistent player, and everything worked in his favour at Indian Wells where he shockingly raised the trophy which is the key to his appearance in the tennis elite, increasing his chances to be a Top 10 guy next year for a while
Strengths: patience in baseline rallies, arrhythmia (he mixes up heavy forehand top-spins with flat backhands)
Weaknesses: monotony, inability to regularly play well tight sets (similarly to Ruud)
My picks for the semifinal spots: Djokovic/Rublev and Medvedev/Berrettini
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

“…from Phil Dent to Jannik Sinner…”

Below this video you have access to my e-book

“…from Dent to Sinner…” and two other files, the biographical e-book updated at the beginning of March ’21, the appendix at the end of May ’21

The 100 best male singles players of the Open Era


…from Phil Dent to Jannik Sinner…

Posted in Books | Leave a comment

Nitto ATP finals (London) – semifinals & final

The last three matches of the strangest Open Era season to date, made sense in terms who participated in them – those who deserved it the most. For the first time since 2004 the four highest ranked players reached the Masters semifinals, and there’s no doubt they were the best in the crazy Covid-19 season because they won all six most important events (out of standard 13) leading to the season finale: Djokovic won Australian Open (and two Masters 1K titles), Thiem won US Open, Nadal won Roland Garros, and Medvedev won Paris-Bercy. Given the past two years, it seems that Thiem & Medvedev are the biggest threats for the legends Djokovic & Nadal. Admittedly Medvedev has never won a five-set match yet (!), but he’s such a good tactician, and his physical preparation is outstanding, thus he must be considered as a potential new Grand Slam champion next year.
Final: Daniil Medvedev d. Dominic Thiem    4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4    [2:42 h]
Almost a repeat of Medvedev’s semifinal match against Nadal. The scoreline looks almost the same, the progress was familiar too. Medvedev began the final running around his backhand, something I had not seen much from him in his previous London matches. This tactics didn’t pay off, Thiem got the only break of the set at 2-all even though the Russian led 40/0 in that game. Medvedev had changed his tactics after the opener against Nadal, and against Thiem he did the same. The Russian came back to his standard patience from the baseline keeping the ball with cross-court backhands (forcing the Austrian to play much more backhand slices than in the previous matches) and began applying serve-and-volley tactics at times. A pivotal moment of the final came at 3-all in the 2nd set when Medvedev attacked the net behind his second serve (just 133 kph) and played a decent stop-volley, Thiem (running forwards) decided to play a FH pusher instead of hitting the ball with top-spin (it wasn’t very difficult because the ball was at the level of his knees & he didn’t need to change the grip – he’d returned with FH), he played it wide… Nonetheless, he led 2:0 in the tie-break when missed another FH passing-shot and it initiated a 9-point streak for the Russian, who broke in the decider to lead 3:2 and served out the championship without any troubles. Medvedev finishes the season with two big titles, a reminiscence of his terrific form in Autumn ’19 when he played six finals in a row, winning three of them. “I always said before this tournament that it would be an amazing story if, here in London, where the tournament was for [12] years, that the first champion would be Russian and the last champion would be Russian, too,” Medvedev said during the trophy ceremony. “A lot of thanks to Nikolay Davydenko for being an inspiration for many kids [like] me [by] winning here. I hope to continue doing his job.” The longest ‘best of three’ final in the tournament history. Stats of the match.
Daniil Medvedev d. Rafael Nadal    3-6, 7-6(4), 6-3    [2:36 h]
Their fourth meeting, Nadal led 3:0 so despite Medvedev’s great form recently, the Spaniard seemed to be very self-confident. He saved three break points in the 3rd game of the match and easily won three games from 3-all. In the 2nd set Medvedev began serving faster, it changed the pace of the match and made the things quite complicated because after Medvedev’s easy holds, service games of Nadal produced quite demanding rallies. Nadal saved a break point at 1:4 and was serving for his place in the final at 5:4 – Medvedev broke back at ‘love’. Just like then, in the tie-break Nadal wasn’t closer than four points away from victory (the most important point of TB happened at 1-all when Medvedev won a 26-stroke rally with a forehand winner being pushed to defense a couple of times). In the 3rd set the Spaniard led 3:2* (deuce) when his legs stopped perfectly working,  he run out of steam while the ten years younger Medvedev was still fresh and convincingly took the last four games, nevertheless there were ‘deuces’ in Nadal’s last two service games. “I felt really strange until 5:4 for him in the second set, when he was serving for the match,” Medvedev said in an on-court interview. “It felt like I was doing great shots but there was no link in my game and that was why I was losing. He was better in the important moments, I couldn’t return in the important moments, I couldn’t make a good shot in the important moments.” Stats of the match.
Average serve speed: Medvedev 201/161 kph, Nadal 190/159 kph… Total points: 105-94
Dominic Thiem d. Novak Djokovic    7-5, 6-7(10), 7-6(5)    [2:54 h]
# Unbelievable match, actually the tightest “best of three” in the 50-year-old history of the event! Thiem went through the match unbroken (saved break points in two games of the 2nd set), he broke just once at 5-all in the opener. In the preceding game, Djokovic was two points away from the set at 5:4* (deuce) when Thiem hit fast ‘down the T’ serve. The Austrian squandered four – two on serve – match points in the 2nd set tie-break: 6:5 (service winner), *7:6 (double fault), *9:8 (FH long), 10:9 (FH winner on the line). Despite losing such a dramatic set, Thiem stayed cool and firmly held the opening game of the decider with no signs of frustration. In the deciding tie-break, Djokovic built an insurmountable 4:0* advantage, but just like one year ago on the same court, Thiem managed to produce a miraculous comeback, even better than in 2019 when he trailed *1:4 in the deciding tie-break before winning 6-7, 6-3, 7-6… At 0:4 he fired an ace down the T, followed by a FH winner. A point at 4:2 was perhaps crucial – there was a long rally, and Djokovic decided to attack the net with BH slice… he netted. Thiem won six points in a row in total, Djokovic fought off the fifth MP with an ace, but on the sixth occasion, Thiem placed his fast serve out-wide, and forced the running Djokovic to send the ball long. Thiem covered his faced in hands a moment after winning the match. “It was for sure a mental battle. I got so tight in the second-set tie-break because to play these legends is always going to be something special,” said Thiem in an on-court interview. “Playing for the final here at the Nitto ATP Finals is also something very special and I thought that after my first big title in New York, maybe I’m going to be a little bit more calm, but that was a mistake, I guess. I was just as tight and as nervous as before. It was so much on the edge that match, like every single match here. The best players in the world are facing off. So I’m just incredibly happy to be through and just [will] try to get ready for tomorrow.” It’s Thiem’s 300th main-level match won. Djokovic finished the season with an amazing 15-2 record in tie-breaks (.882)
Average serve speed: Thiem 196/161 kph, Djokovic 193/148 kph… Total points: 119-115
# Comparison of the tightest (38-game) semifinals in Masters history:
1996: Sampras d. Ivanisevic 6-7, 7-6, 7-5… 2:00 hours… Points: 110-100… 3 pts away (breaks: 1-0)
2016: Murray d. Raonic 5-7, 7-6, 7-6… 3:38 hours… Points: 138-136… 1 m.p. (breaks: 3-4)
2020: Thiem d. Djokovic 7-5, 6-7, 7-6… 2:54 hours… Points: 119-115… 3 pts away (breaks: 1-0)

Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

Nitto ATP finals (London) – Day 5 & 6

Group “Tokyo ’20” – Day 6
Daniil Medvedev d. Diego Schwartzman    6-3, 6-3    [1:13 h]
Medvedev tactically played a perfect match. Two weeks ago he had defeated Schwartzman 6-3, 6-1 in Paris, so feeling such an advantage over ~30 cm shorter opponent indoors, and actually playing “an exhibition match” the most important thing it was not to waste too much energy before a demanding confrontation against Rafa tomorrow. Once the Russian established a 3:1* lead he fully controlled the rest; I noticed that among 18 games they played, he didn’t care in three at all (two in the opener, one in the 2nd set). His serve was working very well (35% of points directly behind the serve) as well as his ground-strokes. “I was playing great in the two previous matches. I think it is always good to stay undefeated for the confidence. I wanted to win the match, so I am really happy that I have done it,” said Medvedev in an on-court interview. “I was serving really good today, so that helped me a lot throughout all the match.” Before the tournament I expected Schwartzman to win 4-6 games in just one of his six lost sets, and it almost happened (Zverev lost the plot a bit as he missed a casual forehand leading 6-3, 3:1 ‘deuce’ against the Argentinian).
Average serve speed: Medvedev 199/160 kph, Schwartzman 169/141 kph… Total points: 65-49
Novak Djokovic d. Alexander Zverev    6-3, 7-6(4)    [1:36 h]
Similarly to yesterday’s evening match (Nadal-Tsitsipas) it was like a quarterfinal – the winner was supposed to advance to the semifinals being aware of his next opponent, and again the great champion controlled his destiny against a young player who only aspires to be a great one in the future. Zverev surprised me a bit because he won the toss, yet elected to receive (did the same against Medvedev). He didn’t feel his body well enough after Djokovic’s first service game though; maybe he wanted to avoid being broken in the opening game, it haunted him anyway. The Serb quickly led 3:0* and there was no other break to the end of the match. In the 2nd set the German led 5:4 (deuce) and 6:5 (30-all), but Djokovic delivered good serves then, and came back from a *0:2 deficit in the first tie-break of their six meetings (Djokovic leads 4:2). ”I felt great. Early in the first set he had a couple of break point chances. I managed to serve well in the important moments and contrary to the last match against Daniil, I just managed to find the right shots at the right time,” said Djokovic. “Sascha, I have tremendous respect for him. He’s a great player, huge serve. Obviously not easy to return the 140 miles per hour first serves.” Djokovic’s equalled Rublev’s 41 matches won this year and Becker’s nine appearances in the semifinals of the season-ending championships, previously known as Masters.
Average serve speed: Djokovic 195/156 kph, Zverev 209/167 kph… Total points: 70-65
Group “London ’20” – Day 5
Rafael Nadal d. Stefanos Tsitsipas    6-4, 4-6, 6-2    [2:03 h]
Their previous two matches where very tight, Nadal won 6-7, 6-4, 7-5 last year in London, one month later 6-7, 7-5, 7-6 in an exhibition event in Arabia. The first two sets suggested that another tight decider would be required. They held many times easily; Nadal got the only break of the opener at 4-all, Tsitsipas his first break of the match at 5:4 in the 2nd set. The decider began with three breaks of serve though, Nadal broke to lead 2:1 with the help of phenomenal backhand overhead (gave him 30/0). The Spaniard broke again at 4:2 and ousted the defending champion with a backhand down the line winner. Nadal won 11 of 15 times when he charged the net, losing as many as three actions of this type in the crucial game of the 2nd set, but every time he was forced to play very difficult volleys. “I still won two matches like last year,” Nadal said. “Last year, I was a little bit unlucky not to be in the semi-finals. The year before I had to pull out. It is always difficult to play here against the best players in the world every single day [at the] end of the season. Most of the time, you get here a little bit tired, but this year is a little bit different… I am just excited to be in the semi-finals and I hope to be ready to try my best.”
Average serve speed: Nadal 191/163 kph, Tsitsipas 203/164 kph… Total points: 84-67
Andrey Rublev d. Dominic Thiem    6-2, 7-5    [1:14 h]
Rublev – winner of the most titles (5) this year – finished the best season of his career in very good style. I considered him as a favourite because Thiem, who had lost two previous meetings to Rublev, has already advanced to the semifinals as a group leader, so the question was: will they both play in exhibition mode or just the Austrian? As I expected, Thiem delivered 80-90% mode while the Russian was trying to give his best from start to finish. He quickly jumped to a 4:0 lead. In the 2nd set he led 4:2*, but Thiem broke back thanks to forehand errors of the Russian. Thiem even led 5:4 when Rublev held in his most convincing fashion. At 5-all Thiem led 40/0 to be broken, in that game occurred the best baseline rally, so I cannot exclude that Thiem wanted to play a decider. Rublev finished his season with an ace out-wide. “I feel happy to be here,” he said. “I was so close in my second match. I had match point and I was serving, so it could have been a completely different story if I won two matches. I would maybe still have a chance to be in the semi-finals… It is a part of life, [I] just need to keep working and we will see what is going to happen next.” Three things Thiem did in this match he usually doesn’t do: faster second serves, more frequent & rather careless attacks to the net behind the serve & casual dropshots.
Average serve speed: Rublev 198/151 kph, Thiem 195/172 kph… Total points: 69-53
Posted in Tournaments | 1 Comment

Nitto ATP Finals (London) – Day 3 & 4

Group “Tokyo ’70” – Day 4
Daniil Medvedev d. Novak Djokovic    6-3, 6-3    [1:21 h]
Very disappointing match. I had an impression that Djokovic wasn’t particularly interested once he was broken at 3-all in the opener. Medvedev won seven (!) straight games in total, he even led (30/15) at 3:0* in the 2nd set, so Djokovic’s utter devastation could happen. The Serb claimed 2 out of his 5 titles in the season-ending championships, despite losing a group match, he is fully aware that this defeat may mean nothing. I don’t know, but cannot exclude that he didn’t want to hypothetically lose a tight match to Medvedev facing another “Russian tower” Zverev on Friday… It’s rather untypical situation for the formula of the event, that after four days no mathematics is involved in group scenarios leading to the semifinals: Thiem & Medvedev are already through as group leaders regardless of their next matches. In the semifinals they will face the winners of Djokovic-Zverev and Nadal-Tsitsipas matches. “To be completely honest, I am sure he didn’t play his best today. But still, it happens for everybody,” Medvedev said. “I always say the Big Three are the champions because it happens less for them than for other players. It is still tough to beat them, even on their bad days so I am really happy about the win. I am feeling good [and] confident right now… I knew I had to take my chances [and] serve good.”  The best player in the world won just 1 of 8 BH dropshot attempts (the only time when played it cross-court).
Average serve speed: Medvedev 203/167 kph, Djokovic 195/161 kph… Total points: 70-54
Alexander Zverev d. Diego Schwartzman    6-3, 4-6, 6-3    [2:11 h]
A meeting between the tallest and the shortest player of the event (~30 cm difference) looked like I expected with one significant exception – I didn’t think that Zverev would lose a set, especially leading with a break. It happened in the 2nd set; he led 3:1* (deuce) on the way to repeat his recent easy victory over Schwartzman in the Köln final (6-2, 6-1) when played a nonchalant forehand return which landed behind the baseline. In the first two sets I was thinking the German wanted to win that match in a 80-90% mode which in my opinion efficiently Djokovic applied two days ago. It’s not easy against someone like the Argentinian with his “never say die” attitude. In the 3rd set Zverev had to be fully concentrated from the start, and it paid off at 2-all when he played his best tennis, breaking Schwartzman with difficult backhand volley. Another break at 5:3 came after Schwartzman’s casual errors. “It was much better than on Monday,” said Zverev in an on-court interview. “Diego is a very difficult player. He deserves to be here… There are no easy matches, but I am happy to get the win. I am happy to give myself a chance to go to the semi-finals and I am excited for Friday… is going to be the most difficult match you can have here against Novak.”
Average serve speed: Zverev 215/153 kph, Schwartzman 169/138 kph… Total points: 95-80
Group “London ’20” – Day 3
Stefanos Tsitsipas d. Andrey Rublev    6-1, 4-6, 7-6(6)    [1:55 h]
The first, 19-minute set it was a joke. Rublev played like a novice, perhaps his worst set in the past two years. The Russian couldn’t play any worse, nevertheless his straight set loss hung in the air as he faced double break point at 3-all in the 2nd set – the second BP he saved with a forehand winner on the line. He survived a five BP game to lead 2:1 in the decider, and led 6:5 (30/0) when the ball was in play, but Tsitsipas forced an error and with the help of the serve obtained another three points. The Greek led 5:2* in the tie-break, at 5-all they both played their best tennis from the baseline – Rublev won the 25-stroke point, but he was running much more in it and oxygen debt cost him a double fault with his second serve netted (133 kph) much below his average speed. After the change of ends Rublev still couldn’t regulate breathing and made two simple errors. They have played three tight deciding 3rd set against each other thus far, and the Greek has survived it for the first time. For the tournament it’d be better if the Russian won; now he’s eliminated so his last round robin match will have an exhibition character. “It was an unbelievable match from both sides. We produced some incredible tennis,” Tsitsipas said in an on-court interview. “The relief at the very end of putting all that effort and all that fight on the court paid off. I am very happy that I showed determination and a willingness to not give up when he had match point. It came easier when he was up 6/5, but then I produced some really good tennis and that helped me take the win.” Rublev admitted he was close to lose the match 1-6, 3-6.
Average serve speed: Tsitsipas 203/166 kph, Rublev 199/144 kph… Total points: 92-82
Dominic Thiem d. Rafael Nadal   7-6(7), 7-6(4)    [2:25 h]
High quality encounter, the best 2-0  match of the season in my opinion. From the beginning they both were playing better than on Sunday in the opening matches… Nadal was very aggressive, he displayed alacrity to apply serve-and-volley in every game. No break of serve, in the tie-break the Spaniard led 5:2 on serve when Thiem’s inside-out forehand found the sideline. Similarly to his first ’round robin’ match, Thiem erased a three-point deficit, then he saved two set points with solid ground-strokes (5:6, 6:7) and clinched the set after 72 minutes (with his third FH winner in the tie-break) even though his first serve deserted him at the end. In the 2nd set there where two consecutive breaks, the first for Nadal. Thiem had a triple match point at 5:4, but Nadal saved it quickly, winning the second point with a S&V action behind his 2nd serve (his winning FH stop-volley touched the net-cord). Thiem didn’t dwell on wasting chances and played another excellent tie-break. He has now won 6 out of 8 tie-breaks against Rafa (including the last five sets he has won against him!). “Indoors and [on] hard courts, it was probably one of the better matches I have ever played,” said Thiem. “It came very close to last year’s match against Novak here. [That was] also [a] second group match, which is probably the best three-setter I have ever played. Today came very close to that match and now the goal is to enjoy this victory and to maintain that level until Thursday.”
Average serve speed: Thiem 193/164 kph, Nadal 191/161 kph… Total points: 86-81
Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment

Nitto ATP Finals (London) – Day 1 & 2

Group “Tokyo ’70” – Day 2
Daniil Medvedev d. Alexander Zverev    6-3, 6-4    [1:29 h]
Just eight days after their final in Paris-Bercy, they met again – this time Medvedev won much easier. The beginning indicated it would be very long affair, albeit the second game was short (Zverev committed three double faults in a row, risking the 2nd serve only at 30/0). Medvedev won a titanic third game saving five break points, one of them after a punishing 29-stroke rally, and that game cost them both a lot of energy. Actually until 5:2 they both were playing breathing heavily, being involved in several gruelling rallies. Then the pace was accelerated, the Russian won the easiest the most important games, serving both sets out. “When you play a Top 10 opponent [in the] first match of the tournament, you have to be there all the time,” Medvedev said. “That is what I managed to do, actually. I just lost one service [game] in the first game of the match. Finally, when you win it, you can say, ‘Okay, that was just the start.’ I am happy about my [performance].” At 4:3 (30-all) in the 2nd set, he decided to hit an underarm 1st serve and won the point, I think it’s been the first serve of this type in the tournament history.
Average serve speed: Medvedev 209/150 kph, Zverev 201/154 kph… Total points: 73-58
Novak Djokovic d. Diego Schwartzman    6-3, 6-2    [1:18 h]
Schwartzman – the first Argentinian in “Masters” since 2013 (Juan Martin del Potro) and the shortest player (around 170 cm) since 1980 (Harold Solomon). Before the tournament I thought that each player would beat all others except Schwartzman, especially on the assumption he would go to the group he has landed. I thought about him not only as a good material for a 0-3 (0-6) record, but also one of the worst game ratios in the tournament history, similar to Alberto Berasategui in 1994. His opening match confirmed my pondering. Djokovic played just a decent match, but it was enough to get an easy win. His main strategy of late, to propose backhand dropshots on a regular basis, didn’t work at all. “Everything is difficult against [Novak]. I think what he’s doing when he’s playing his best, he’s moving the ball… to every single point on [the] court,” said Schwartzman. “It’s very difficult to see or to know what he’s going to do and [to] try to make good points… He has a lot of talent when he has the chance to move the ball.”
Average serve speed: Djokovic 194/165 kph, Schwartzman 171/138 kph… Total points: 59-40
Group “London ’20” – Day 1
Rafael Nadal d. Andrey Rublev    6-3, 6-4    [1:17 h]
I badly wanted to watch their second, yet first match in three years because Rublev has improved a lot since Nadal trashed him in the US Open quarterfinal. I wondered how a potentially crucial combination ‘Nadal’s FH vs Rublev’s BH’ would look like. It wasn’t important at all, the Russian began the match serving very poorly (0 of 6 first serves in his opening game which he held). He found himself 3-6, 0:2 quickly, being frustrated, and basically since that moment, the 34-year-old Nadal was only focused to hold a few times more. “It’s important to start well, of course, for the confidence, because winning [in] straight sets helps,” Nadal said. “The serve tonight was very important. I played solidly with my serve. I didn’t suffer much, and that helps [me] to play more relaxed on the return. That’s what I did.”
Average serve speed: Nadal 195/164 kph, Rublev 197/151 kph… Total points: 63-49
Dominic Thiem d. Stefanos Tsitsipas    7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3    [2:17 h]
Unusual situation that the first round robin match was a repeat of the final a year before. When they met in 2019 Tsitsipas won in three sets, this time more luck was on the Austrian side. Thiem came back from a *1:4 deficit in the tie-break serving very well then, as well as at 4:5 – he obtained four quick points behind the serve. Having the first set point, he lobbed Tsitsipas, even though the Greek had been in a good position to finish the point at the net with his forehand. Only one break in each of the following two sets separated them: at 1-all in the 2nd and 1:0 in the 3rd set. Quite interesting and crucial was a six-deuce game when Thiem held to lead 4:1; the Austrian served three aces out-wide on deuce court, but on ad-court he made three very similar errors trying to finish the points with aggressive backhands down the line directly behind returns of the Greek… Thiem has been very solid at tight moments especially in the past two years. I’ve noticed that at his ~60% of first serve in, he increases to ~80% at the most important moments, certainly it helps to win tight situations more often than lose them. His tie-breaks against all the best players in the world are very telling, he has won ‘longer tie-breaks’ against them all: Djokovic (12/10, 7/5); Nadal (8/6); Federer (9/7, 13/11); Medvedev (9/7, 7/5); Zverev (8/6); Tsitsipas (8/6, 7/5); Schwartzman (9/7, 8/6). Admittedly he hasn’t won a tie-break against Rublev yet, but he defeated the Russian saving a match point on serve. “Today was a little bit different [to last year]… [There were] only two breaks in the whole match,” said Thiem. “I think the conditions are pretty fast here, so I am super happy with my win. Every win against a Top 10 player at the Nitto ATP Finals is something special and every win against Stefanos is something special, because he is such a great player. He is established and has won so many big titles already.”
Average serve speed: Thiem 193/164 kph, Tsitsipas 205/164 kph… Total points:  101-96
Group Tokyo ’70
1. Novak Djokovic – 13th appearance (5 titles)
4. Daniil Medvedev – 2nd appearance
7. Alexander Zverev – 4th appearance (1 title)
9. Diego Schwartzman – debut
Group London ’20
2. Rafael Nadal – 10th appearance (6 times skipped!)
3. Dominic Thiem – 5th appearance
6. Stefanos Tsitsipas – 2nd appearance (1 title)
8. Andrey Rublev – debut
13. Denis Shapovalov (alternate)
No. 5 – Federer, withdrew (knee injury)

Posted in Tournaments | Leave a comment