Can Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal make it out of the semifinals on the ATP Finals?

LONDON — Because the ATP Finals event prepares to say goodbye to London and transfer to Turin, Italy, subsequent yr, 4 challengers hoping to get their title on the trophy stay — with three aiming to win the event for the primary time.

The event is being performed in an eerily quiet — and fanless — O2 Enviornment. The encompassing pubs and eating places are all shut, with the UK in lockdown till Dec. 2 as a result of COVID-19. It is a jarring expertise to look at from afar. Normally it’s a jamboree of pumping music, strobe lights, Swiss flags and overpriced meals.

Though we’re down one Grand Slam this yr with Wimbledon cancelled, there might be no asterisk in opposition to this yr’s winner. It can come all the way down to a mastery of the thoughts as a lot because the courtroom. The gamers have spoken this week about how robust the off-court moments are, holed up of their lodge rooms and unable to combine with family and friends outdoors of the tennis bio-bubble. Despite the fact that their lodge is simply 200 yards from the world, they have to take a automotive. It is restrictive however important to permit this occasion to happen.

After the eight unique challengers, simply 4 stay. Each Dominic Thiem and shock package deal Daniil Medvedev will look to get their title on the trophy for the primary time, whereas Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal hope to complete their years on a excessive word.

Dominic Thiem vs. Novak Djokovic

Thiem has lengthy been a contender in males’s tennis and was first to qualify for the semifinals, having overwhelmed final yr’s ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas 7-6, 4-6, 6-3, and Nadal 7-6, 7-6. Along with his highly effective floor strokes and cozy management of the baseline, Thiem, now 27 years previous, is lastly hitting his peak in a yr that noticed him win his maiden Grand Slam on the US Open to turn out to be the primary male born within the 1990s to win a serious singles title.

His win over Nadal this week was particularly spectacular. His deadly backhand darted down the road and saved Nadal pinned again.

“I knew that if I need to have an opportunity, this shot has to go in, the backhand down the road, if I take it early. Fortunately it labored out nicely,” Thiem mentioned.

It will show essential within the semifinal, as will his means to hit clear winners — he hammered 37 winners previous Nadal together with six aces. Thiem rated his personal efficiency in that second group match as higher than the usual he reached on the US Open and in contrast it to a group-stage win over Djokovic on this event final yr.

“I believe that right now … was perhaps one of the best match for me for the reason that restart of the tour. That makes me tremendous glad,” he mentioned after dispatching Nadal.

His remaining group-stage match was much less spectacular, as he misplaced to Andrey Rublev 2-6, 5-7. Thiem mentioned after the defeat that it was tough to maintain that tremendous depth he had throughout the first two rounds, and he hopes his semifinal in opposition to Djokovic will go extra just like the Nadal match than Rublev one.

Destiny in these ATP Finals is smiling on him. The previous 4 winners have all been new names on the trophy. Thiem is now well-placed to observe in Andy Murray, Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev and Tsitsipas’ footsteps to turn out to be a fifth first-time champion, however he won’t have it straightforward in opposition to the world No. 1.

Djokovic has had a turbulent yr. He received the Australian Open in February, and after contracting COVID-19 throughout the suspension of the ATP Tour as a result of pandemic, he picked up the place he left off, approaching the US Open in very good type. Then got here his notorious default after hitting a linesperson with a ball. Subsequent got here the French Open, the place he stormed by to the ultimate solely to hit the Nadal barrier. Regardless of all of this, he is nonetheless ranked No. 1 on this planet and is aware of {that a} triumph in London will see him match Roger Federer‘s document of six ATP Finals titles.

In London, Djokovic opened with a commanding 6-3, 6-2 win over Diego Schwartzman, then suffered a shock loss to Medvedev, teeing up a straight shootout with 2018 winner Zverev for a spot within the semifinal.

He did not cling round in opposition to Zverev, storming to a 3-Zero lead within the first set and shutting that one out 6-3. Regardless of Zverev exhibiting higher rhythm and leading edge within the second, Djokovic went by in straight units 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).

Djokovic was pissed off after the defeat to Medvedev, saying he lacked rhythm, tempo and health, whereas bemoaning his 24 unforced errors and 5 double faults. However the win over Zverev noticed him again on a fair keel as he saluted the empty stands.

“I felt nice, I managed to serve nicely in vital moments and located the best pictures on the proper time,” Djokovic mentioned after beating Zverev.

Djokovic nonetheless goes by his typical celebratory salute of pushing his arms out from his chest to all 4 sides of the world.

“That is my celebration. I imply, that is my additionally gratitude to the courtroom and to this chance to have the ability to compete,” Djokovic mentioned. “You realize, though it’d sound like a phrase, however I attempt to remind myself that do not take issues with no consideration, and that is form of one of many routines that jogs my memory of the issues that I’ve to pay attention to.”

Djokovic has two extra alternatives to do this routine in London. Djokovic faces Thiem on Saturday with the head-to-head document of 7-Four in his favor.

“Being one of many hardest staff and most devoted gamers, Dominic’s discovered his A-game on different surfaces [apart from clay]. Hopefully we will have an important match,” Djokovic mentioned.

Daniil Medvedev vs. Rafael Nadal

World No. Four Medvedev is discovering his peak type at simply the best time. His group-stage 6-3, 6-Three win over Djokovic was a efficiency he attributes to taking part in with out self-doubt and proof he’s taking part in a few of the greatest tennis of his profession. He got here to London off the again of a blended yr. He crashed out of the Australian Open within the fourth spherical to Stan Wawrinka, then — after tennis’ hiatus as a result of COVID-19 — he reached the semifinals of the US Open the place he misplaced to Thiem, and received the Paris Masters, beating Zverev 5-7, 6-4, 6-1 within the remaining.

After beating Djokovic on Wednesday, Medvedev was requested who he’d prefer to face within the semifinals.

“In fact, I need to get a win in opposition to Rafa,” Medvedev mentioned. “I nonetheless do not have one.”

If Medvedev is to knock off Nadal, he might want to serve like he did in opposition to Djokovic — successful 61% of his second-serve factors to Djokovic’s 43% together with 10 aces. He put that win over Djokovic all the way down to “taking part in protected sufficient in an important moments.” He is now aiming for a spot in ATP Finals historical past as he appears to be like to turn out to be the fourth participant to win the title off the again of a winless debut yr (he misplaced to Zverev, Nadal and Tsitsipas throughout the group stage in 2019).

Nadal has certified for the previous 16 ATP Finals, however up to now his greatest outcomes are finals defeats to Federer in 2010 and Djokovic in 2013. This might be his greatest probability. Because of the enforced break, Nadal’s physique had time to relaxation. And he’s nonetheless using the wave of his triumph on the French Open — his 20th main title — in October.

In London, Nadal began sturdy with a 6-3, 6-Four victory over Rublev. He then fell to Thiem 6-7, 6-7. He mentioned after the defeat he had no detrimental reflections and was pleased with how he performed. He appeared content material and calm, and that carried by to his spectacular three-set victory over Tsitsipas on Thursday. Nadal now appears to be like to hold that momentum into Saturday’s knockout match in opposition to Medvedev, realizing that he has received all three of his earlier encounters in opposition to the Russian.

What was so spectacular about Nadal’s win over Tsitispas — alongside the same old traits we have come to count on from the Spaniard — was his serve. He managed to hit eight aces. However with only one single indoor hard-court triumph to his title — the ATP Masters 1000 Madrid title in 2005 — he is aware of he must be at his greatest to defeat the plucky Russian who he feels has “loads of confidence” and is “taking part in nice.”

Nadal, talking after his win over Tsitispas, reeled off Medvedev’s latest type from the previous two years as if he had been finding out him carefully, predicting they might finally meet.

“[Medvedev] has loads of confidence. Yeah, I do know [it’s] gonna be a troublesome one,” Nadal mentioned. “I do know I have to play at my highest degree. If not, it is nearly unimaginable. However I hope to be able to make that occur.”

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