Week 46 (Masters)
Officially known as the “ATP Finals” since 2017 and hosted in Turin since 2021. This year saw two debutants, 20-year-olds Rune and Alcaraz (the Spaniard was set for his debut a year earlier but withdrew due to injury). Three decades ago, the Top 10 players were divided between serve-and-volleyers and baseliners. Today, everyone adopts a more or less similar style, leaning towards offensive baselining. The only division now considers the way players handle their backhands. Stefanos Tsitsipas, the lone one-handed backhander in the Top 10 and the 2019 champion, faced setbacks arriving in Italy. Despite his problems, he chose to compete, losing his opening match swiftly and retiring from his second after just three games. In his Green group the matches involving Jannik Sinner, Novak Đoković, and Holger Rune provided fans with gripping moments. Đoković, the primary favorite, engaged in three three-set battles, the third one against Hubert Hurkacz, who replaced Tsitsipas. Đoković’s fate wasn’t in his hands during the final group meeting. The Serb could have been eliminated had Rune defeated Sinner. At 4:3 in the third set, Rune sent his backhand return wide off Sinner’s second serve at mini-match point.
In the Red group the victories were evenly distributed among three players: Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev, and Alexander Zverev whose elimination was decided by the ratio of sets, as he dropped three sets while the other two players lost two each. Despite his extensive experience (his fourth appearance in the season-ending championships and having reached the semifinals a year prior), Andrey Rublev struggled to make an impact, failing even to force a tie-break. Disturbingly, he seems inclined towards self-destruction, lately hitting quite regularly his left knee with the frame of his racquet, causing it to bleed.
The semifinals left something to be desired. Local favorite Sinner secured his third victory over Medvedev in recent months. However, their two previous encounters were far more intriguing. Medvedev, seemingly learning from those losses, opted for a more aggressive baseline game in the Italian semifinal, resulting in an energy drain. His performance in the third set was notably poor, marked by strange gestures directed at the spectators. In the second semifinal, Đoković outclassed Alcaraz, a disappointing outcome given their four thrilling previous encounters where victories were evenly split.
Đoković, the oldest finalist of this event with his 36 years and 181 days (previous record holder, Arthur Ashe was 35.188 at the Masters ’78 final) to some degree emulated his phenomenal semifinal performance. The 2nd set of his final against Sinner was much tighter though than the opening set as well as two sets against Alcaraz. The Serb has now won the season-ending event seven times (Roger Federer did it six times, Ivan Lendl & Pete Sampras five).
Officially known as the “ATP Tour World Championships” in the ’90s, the event for the top eight players was hosted in Frankfurt. It ran from Tuesday to Sunday, featuring three “round-robin” matches per day. The leader of the * Arthur Ashe group, Pete Sampras, initiated his campaign on Wednesday, enjoying a two-day break after his final in Antwerp. His first match was crucial as he faced his peer, Goran Ivanišević, who had been leading 5:2 in their meetings. A bit surprisingly, Sampras won 2-1 without a tie-break set, altering the trend of their rivalry and ultimately winning 9 out of their next 10 meetings. As expected, clay-courter Sergi Bruguera didn’t secure a victory in his first “Masters” appearance, facing three serve-and-volleyers. Ivanišević’s victory against Stefan Edberg, after 2 hours and 43 minutes (the longest match at the group stage), secured his spot in the semifinals, although he had been serving to win the first two sets, only to split the tie-breaks and claim a decisive break at 4:3 in the third set.
In the Stan Smith group, there was one serve-and-volleyer (Michael Stich) and three offensive baseliners. Stich, the clear favorite on a fast court due to his fantastic autumn form indoors, and the support of the home crowd, faced an open question about the second player to advance to the semifinals. 19-year-old Ukrainian, second debutant, Andrei Medvedev proved that his final appearance in Paris was no fluke, displaying his fighting spirit again. He fought back to win two ‘lost’ matches, first against Jim Courier (saving four match points, including a triple match point at 3:5 in the decider on return!), and then against Michael Chang trailing 2-6 and *1:4. Suffering his bitter defeat, Courier astonished onlookers with two unexpected occurrences: it was the first instance since French Open 1991 that he appeared on the court without his trademark baseball cap, and during changeovers, he engrossed himself in the novel ‘Maybe the Moon’ by Armistead Maupin.
The first semifinal was a 50-minute lesson from Sampras to Medvedev, concluding with Sampras’ 1000th ace of the season. This accomplishment made him the first man in the Open Era to surpass this number, with statistics collected since 1991. In the second semifinal, in a clash of big servers, Stich outperformed Ivanišević in two tie-breaks. While the Croat was the biggest tie-break specialist above “9-all” in the ’90s, against Stich, he lost the second tie-break 10/12, marking his longest tie-break loss throughout his career.
In the final, Sampras might have paid the price for playing five days in a row and two full consecutive weeks following his Belgian triumph. He was erratic and shockingly broken twice in the opening seven games. Although he theoretically could have won the final 3-0, it was evident he couldn’t muster the energy required to deliver his best service performance. Stich claimed the trophy, concluding the season with three indoor titles and replacing Courier as world No. 2. Not many could have expected this scenario after the US Open ’93 when Courier had a 1337-point advantage over the German… * Between 1989 and 1993, it was customary to name both groups in homage to the legendary players from the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Turin (“Masters”; $15M; hard indoors)
🇷🇸Novak Đoković d. 🇮🇹Jannik Sinner 6-3, 6-3
Frankfurt (“Masters”; $3M; carpet indoors)
🇩🇪Michael Stich d. 🇺🇸Pete Sampras 7-6(3), 2-6, 7-6(7), 6-2
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