ATP Finals 2020: Novak Djokovic vies for sixth crown, Rafael Nadal first as London hosts final year-ending tournament

London hosts its 12th and last ATP Finals tournament headlined by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal but with empty stands. The Serb is seeking a sixth title while the recently crowned French Open winner Nadal is going for his first.

Tanuj Lakhina November 15, 2020 09:33:58 IST
ATP Finals 2020: Novak Djokovic vies for sixth crown, Rafael Nadal first as London hosts final year-ending tournament

ATP Finals 2020 field comprising the top players in the world. Image: Instagram/ATP Tour

This is an ATP Finals unlike any other. The method of qualifying for the season-ending tournament has changed from an annual race to the men's rankings. The players didn't step up for the photo op in an outdoor environment, or looked dapper as they did multiple times over the years.

The official photo, for a tournament that brings together the best in the business, is one to look out for. Except, this time it is photoshopped. Players in contention: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Daniil Medvedev, Alexander Zverev, Diego Schwartzman, Dominic Thiem, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev are brought together by someone behind the computer.

There is another version of the official photo that captures the feel of this event, of this year. The eight players are stood some distance apart and are separated on either sides of the net, their rackets against their chests and wearing masks. Right behind is a screen that reads, "Thank you NHS & all key workers" which pays tribute to the UK's healthcare workers.

As London readies for it's 12th and final edition of the tournament, it is without any fans at the O2 Arena. Since 2009, the tournament has reached new heights with a packed venue playing a crucial role in it. It seemed like the tournament had found its 'home' in the English capital. Last year, 2,42,883 fans attended the tournament over eight days and it took London's tally from 2009 to 28,03,967. A quick number crunch says that's just shy of 2,55,000 a year.

But due to the coronavirus pandemic, there will be no audience. The last season for London as an ATP Finals host will be a blank before the tournament moves to Turin, Italy next year.

In this unofficial tournament photo, Djokovic, Medvedev, Zverev and Schwartzman are stationed on the left as Group Tokyo 1970 and Nadal, Thiem, Tsitsipas and Rublev on the right as Group London 2020. The 1970, here, is a celebration of the first ATP Finals event played in Tokyo. 50 years later, it is London's turn to host it for one last time.

Novak Djokovic

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Bidding for a record-equalling sixth ATP Finals, Djokovic comes into the tournament with his World No. 1 spot safe for yet another year and looking good to edge Roger Federer for most weeks at the top. A 39-3 record, one of the losses a default at US Open, makes him a favourite to win for the first time since 2015.

"Coming into the tournament and knowing that I have clinched the year-end number one releases some of the pressure, definitely," he said. "But at the same time it doesn't change what I hope to achieve in this tournament and why I'm here. "I really want to win every single match that I get to play and try to get my hands on the trophy and I want this trophy as much as anybody."

Djokovic holds a 36-14 record at the ATP Finals and has beaten Nikolay Davydenko (2008), Roger Federer (2012, 2014 and 2015) and Rafael Nadal (2013) to win his five events. But he didn't progress past the round-robin phase last year, the earliest exit for him since 2011. The Serb starts against debutant Schwartzman on Monday and has a 5-0 head-to-head over the Argentine.

Daniil Medvedev

Medvedev comes into the tournament on the back of lifting the Paris Masters - his first title since last year in what was his first final of the year. But it comes with a memory of a horrible debut last year. In his maiden appearance, the Russian finished 0-3 including a "choke" where he lost to Nadal despite being 5-1 and a match point up.

“I was really disappointed because if I had won this match (against Nadal) I would have had a chance to qualify for the semis,” said Medvedev, 24, who was born in Moscow and now resides in Monaco. “It would have been a great boost for (my) confidence to beat Rafa. But it happens in tennis. It’s something I should learn from, but also forget about because I should have won. The three defeats last year don’t affect my confidence for this year.”

Win at Bercy saw him beat Zverev in the final and admitted it proved to be a confidence booster. "It’s a big boost in confidence before London,” he said of the win. “It was a great level of tennis, so I have confidence in myself, and I think it will help me here in London. Before, I won only one match in three or four years in Bercy, but this year I won the tournament, so I’m looking confident for this year in London.”

Alexander Zverev

Zverev, who has won two titles this season, both in Cologne, and reached the finals of US Open and Paris Masters, has been embroiled in domestic assault allegations in the recent weeks. The allegations by a former girlfriend came on the same day that another ex-partner publicly stated she was expecting a child with the German. Sascha has denied the allegations of abuse.

"While I very much regret that those accusations are made, I have to stick to my initial thing of them being just untrue and continue to deny them," said the German.

A 2018 ATP Finals champion, Zverev expressed disappointment with the absence of fans in London. “It’s a little bit upsetting, of course. London is a place where we love the atmosphere, we love the stadium and everything,” Zverev said. “It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be different, but I’m still looking forward to playing in this beautiful stadium for the last time at the ATP Finals. It’s still going to be special.”

Diego Schwartzman

Playing his first ATP Finals, Schwartzman has been placed in a group with three in-form indoor hardcourt players – complete opposite of what he had wished for.

“They like more indoors than the other group, so it’s going to be difficult,” Schwartzman acknowledged. “They’re great servers, in addition to being solid from the baseline and they move very well... But we all know that either group would be really tough, with great players who have done well here and won titles. So any opponent in either group was going to be difficult.”

The Argentine starts off against Djokovic on Monday in what is going to be a daunting ask. “Against Nole, you have to always play your 100 percent. It’s hard to think of something else, or try to be tactically better than him, or try to do winners,” he said. “You just have to walk on court trying to play your 100 percent, and maybe if he’s not in his best day, you’re going to have a few opportunities.

“But always the first match is difficult for every single player, so I hope to have opportunities in the match and for sure I’m going to try to take them.”

Schwartzman has had a strong season since the restart. He's achieved a career high World No. 8, reached three ATP Finals including the Rome Masters.

Rafael Nadal

Group London 2020 is headed by World No 2 Rafael Nadal who has, surprisingly, never won the ATP Finals. The Spaniard, who beat Djokovic in the French Open final last month to equal Federer's 20 Grand Slam titles, has qualified for a record 16th straight year.

Nadal is well aware of his shortcomings on indoor hard courts, where he's won only twice out of his 86 trophies. "I think I am able to play a little bit better the last couple of years indoors than what I did at the beginning of my career without a doubt but that's the numbers and I can't say something different," said the 34-year-old two-time finalist. "I hope to change that this week."

At the Paris Masters, an indoor hard court event, Nadal reached the semi-finals before being beaten by Zverev in straight sets.

The shortened season could make a difference this time with Nadal getting plenty of rest unlike previous instances where he's withdrawn six times at the fag end of the year.

Nadal starts off against debutant Rublev on Sunday. The Russian has won two indoor hard court events just this year in St. Petersburg and Vienna.

“I don’t know how close I am to the perfect preparation,” said Nadal. “I tried to fight hard in every single match in Bercy. That put me in a position that I already played four matches on this surface and hopefully that can help me here, but there remains two days for me to practise here. I hope to be ready to accept the challenge to play against such difficult opponents like Rublev in the first [match].”

Dominic Thiem

Thiem has turned his image of being a clay court proponent around with wins at Indian Wells last year and highlighted it by lifting the US Open two months ago. The Austrian has started to become more comfortable on the hard courts helped significantly by the top spin heavy groundstrokes.

“Maybe sometimes [I am] even more comfortable on a hard court. I guess the results from late 2019 until today, they were even better on hard courts,” Thiem said. “It suits most parts of my game even better than the clay court.”

Thiem starts off against defending champion Tsitsipas in what is a repeat of last year's final. That meeting needed a final set tiebreak for the victor to be decided and in their first meeting since, it is difficult to predict who will come out on top.

Stefanos Tsitsipas

Tsitsipas won last year in what was his maiden ATP Finals appearance. Now, he'd be hopeful of emulating Djokovic's feat of successfully defending the title. Last year, he beat Medvedev, Zverev, Federer and Thiem on the way to his biggest triumph.

He comes into it after early exits in Vienna and Paris. "Very happy to be back, that's for sure," said the Greek world number six. "Every year I get to experience being back here is thrilling.

"It's like a meeting spot for those that had a good year to be back here, celebrate their hard work, their dedication to the sport. I'm very privileged to be part of it."

Besides form, a leg injury also creates doubts over Tsitsipas' showing in the coming week. He acknowledged he's "very close to 100 percent" but it's still a work in progress.

“I’m happy that I’m able to move more freely and less conscious of my pain. So it’s a positive feedback, and a positive thing to have, [because] this injury kind of mentally drained me,” he revealed, adding, “I was not quite sure if it’s the right thing to do, to keep playing, but I proved that the mind can do anything if you set yourself a goal and you want to pursue it. Right now, I’m feeling way, way better than I did in Vienna. I hope my leg stays the same.”

Stefanos has one title to his name this year in Marseille while reaching the final in Hamburg and semi-finals at French Open.

Andrey Rublev

No one has won more titles or matches this year than Rublev. In a breakthrough season, the Russian has won five titles (Doha, Adelaide, Hamburg, St. Petersburg, Vienna) and 40 matches to qualify for the ATP Finals for the first time. Despite his consistency and success on different surfaces, the World No. 8 expressed nervousness.

“Of course, I am feeling nervous. It is my first time,” said Rublev. “You are with all the best players here and of course, you feel nervous. This is a normal thing because we are all humans… This is the moment we are playing for and we are working for.”

The 23-year-old found success at the Grand Slams as well with quarterfinals at the US Open and French Open. He starts off against Nadal on Sunday evening. “I am looking forward [to the match]. He is one of the best players in the history of tennis, so I have nothing to lose. I'll go there to enjoy. All the pressure will be on him and in the end, we will see what is going to happen. I will try to do my best and we will see.”

Rublev can take heart from the fact that two of the past three editions have been won by debutants (Grigor Dimitrov and Tsitsipas).

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