Paris Masters preview: Djokovic, Nadal resume battle for No 1; London hopefuls Zverev, Berrettini sprint to the finish line

The Paris Masters draw sees the Big 3 playing at a Masters together for the first time since May.

Musab Abid October 27, 2019 11:02:48 IST
Paris Masters preview: Djokovic, Nadal resume battle for No 1; London hopefuls Zverev, Berrettini sprint to the finish line
  • The Paris Masters draw sees the Big 3 playing at a Masters together for the first time since May.

  • Six of the eight spots for the ATP Finals have been confirmed, but there's a mad scramble for the last two between as many as six players.

  • Federer is playing well again, Nadal is well-rested and well-married, and Djokovic has the No 1 ranking to retrieve.

The Paris Masters is widely considered to be the black sheep of Masters events. There’s something about Bercy – it could be the chilly and unwelcoming indoor air, or the weird camera angle on TV, or the unusually late scheduling in the calendar, or the frequent withdrawal of at least one Big 3 member – that gives you the impression it’s an event struggling to stay above water.

When Jack Sock defeated Filip Krajinovic to win the title in 2017 (and then seemingly forgot how to play tennis the next year), everyone’s worst fears were confirmed: the Paris Masters was a faux Masters. Karen Khachanov winning it in 2018 didn’t help, especially since it overshadowed the classic Federer vs Djokovic semi-final that preceded it. The Russian has spent much of this year failing to live up to the newfound expectations, giving rise to the theory that winning the Paris Masters is cursed.

Paris Masters preview Djokovic Nadal resume battle for No 1 London hopefuls Zverev Berrettini sprint to the finish line

Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal will add stardust to Paris Masters. AFP/File

But it wasn’t always like this. Before the tragedy of 2017, the top players had an almost vice-like grip on the trophy. From 2007 to 2016 the Paris Masters was either won by legends like Novak Djokovic (four times), Roger Federer and Andy Murray, or by Slam finalists like David Ferrer, Robin Soderling, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Murray’s 2016 win was particularly memorable, as it marked the penultimate step in his insane charge to the year-end No 1 ranking.

This year’s Paris Masters has the potential to take us back to those good old days. The draw, which sees the Big 3 playing at a Masters together for the first time since May, seems set to give us a thrilling, heavyweight-dominated spectacle of the pre-2017 kind. Federer is playing well again, Nadal is well-rested and well-married, and Djokovic has the No 1 ranking to retrieve; could there be a more fertile ground for some good old-fashioned Big 3 magic?

There’s also the matter of the tighter-than-a-drum race to London. Six of the eight spots for the ATP Finals have been confirmed, but there’s a mad scramble for the last two between as many as six players. A good performance in Paris by any one of them could seal the deal, making this event more intriguing than usual.

Here’s a look at how the draws have shaped up for the year’s last Masters 1000, and which of the prime suspects have been dealt a kind (or harsh) hand:

First quarter: The Serbinator wants his throne back

As of this Monday, the No 1 spot in the ATP rankings will pass from Djokovic to Nadal, bringing to an end the Serb’s 51-week run at the top. And since we are close to the end of 2019, the coveted year-end No 1 ranking is on the line too. You can bet your last dollar Djokovic would hate to have that stolen from him after a year in which he won two Slams and sat on the throne pretty much from start to finish.

Djokovic is currently 1,280 points behind Nadal in the year-to-date standings, and there are 2,500 points up for grabs in Paris and London. That means he does have a chance to upstage the Spaniard, but the margins are slim; if he fails to make the final in Paris (and Nadal does), he can pretty much kiss the No 1 ranking goodbye.

Paris Masters preview Djokovic Nadal resume battle for No 1 London hopefuls Zverev Berrettini sprint to the finish line

Novak Djokovic would look to secure a year-end No 1 rank. File Image

But Djokovic is a four-time champion at Paris, so he knows what it takes to get the job done here. His draw is not particularly devious either; he starts against Dusan Lajovic or Richard Gasquet, before a possible third-round meeting with Diego Schwartzman and a potential quarter-final matchup with Stefanos Tsitsipas. Yes, Tsitsipas did beat Djokovic the last time they met (at the Shanghai Masters), but the Greek would likely be a little fatigued after his energy-sapping Basel run.

Also in this quarter is another Djokovic conqueror Roberto Bautista Agut, who is just one spot below the qualification cutoff for the ATP Finals. The Spaniard has been in something of a swoon lately though, having failed to go beyond the quarter-final at any tournament since Wimbledon. At this point, it seems Bautista Agut will need something of a miracle to make it to London – especially since he’d have to get past Tsitsipas AND Djokovic to put himself back in contention.

Quarter-final prediction: Novak Djokovic def. Stefanos Tsitsipas

Dark horse: Alex de Minaur, who could face Bautista Agut in the second round

First-round match to watch: The all-American battle between Frances Tiafoe and Taylor Fritz

Second quarter: Who can stop the Russian Machine?

Daniil Medvedev has won the last two Masters 1000 tournaments – in Cincinnati and Shanghai – and has looked as close to a winning machine as anyone has in recent memory. He has in fact reached six finals in a row dating back to Washington in July, and is clearly the form player of the tour right now. Who can stop him from making it seven consecutive finals, and three consecutive Masters?

Paris Masters preview Djokovic Nadal resume battle for No 1 London hopefuls Zverev Berrettini sprint to the finish line

Daniil Medvedev will be gunning for a third straight Masters title. AP/File

The first person to try will likely be Guido Pella, followed by John Isner in the third round and either David Goffin or Dominic Thiem in the quarters. Thiem is the only one of those players to have done anything of note in the fall swing, but even he is unlikely to be a match for the Russian on a hardcourt; the last time they met on this surface, Medvedev ran away to a 6-3, 6-1 win.

Goffin has the most motivation to do well here, considering he is right behind Bautista Agut in the race to London. But the Belgian, as good as he is on quick courts, would have to play the match of his life to get past the current avatar of Medvedev.

Quarter-final prediction: Daniil Medvedev def. David Goffin

Dark horse: Milos Raonic, who could face Thiem in the second round

First-round match to watch: Grigor Dimitrov vs Ugo Humbert

Third quarter: The London hopefuls assemble

Alexander Zverev has had an underwhelming year by any standard, but he’s still in with a shot at making the ATP Finals. He is currently seventh in the race, and a quarter-final here will likely be enough to secure his spot.

But the German is coming off a first-round loss to Taylor Fritz in Basel, and could face his nemesis Borna Coric (who leads Zverev 3-1 in the head-to-head) first up in Paris, so a deep run is far from guaranteed.

Paris Masters preview Djokovic Nadal resume battle for No 1 London hopefuls Zverev Berrettini sprint to the finish line

Roger Federer starts runaway favourite in his quarter and can be expected to reach the semis at the very least. File Image

Zverev’s fellow London hopefuls Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils are right around the corner too; Fognini and Zverev could meet in the third round, and whoever wins that could face Monfils in the quarters. But that is if Monfils gets past Roger Federer – which is a big ‘if’, whether Federer is 38 or 48.

Federer looked sharp in Basel, having seemingly rediscovered at least some of his Wimbledon form. He’s always enjoyed playing indoors too; with nothing much to lose in Paris, he would be eyeing another semi-final run at the very least.

Quarter-final prediction: Roger Federer def. Alexander Zverev

Dark horse: Denis Shapovalov, who could meet Fognini in the third round

First-round match to watch: Borna Coric vs Fernando Verdasco

Fourth quarter: Honeymoon on hold

Rafael Nadal got married to his long-time girlfriend Xisca Perello on 19 October, and within two days, he was back on the practice court. The Spaniard clearly has no time for frivolous things like wedding after-parties or honeymoons; playing (and winning) Masters holds precedence over everything else in the world.

Nadal has actually not lost a match at a hardcourt Masters in two years, partly because he hasn’t played in a lot of them. This will be just the second hardcourt Masters for Nadal this year, and fourth since the start of 2018. The fact that he has decided to play in the black sheep of Masters tournaments suggests he is targeting that No 1 ranking.

The Spaniard is in a far more comfortable position than Djokovic in that regard; all he has to do is reach the final in Paris to make the task oppressively difficult for the Serb, no matter what happens in London.

Nadal’s draw is fairly manageable too; he will likely start against Adrian Mannarino, followed by one of Stan Wawrinka (who pulled out of Basel due to injury), Marin Cilic or Hubert Hurkacz in the third round.

Nadal’s projected quarter-final opponent by seed is defending champion Khachanov, but that matchup seems unlikely given how much the Russian has regressed in 2019. A likelier scenario would be Nadal facing Matteo Berrettini; the Italian has continued his strong season by playing well in the fall too, and looks like the best bet to sew up a London spot.

Quarter-final prediction: Rafael Nadal def. Matteo Berrettini

Dark horse: Andrey Rublev, who could play Berrettini in the second round

First-round match to watch: Marin Cilic vs Hubert Hurkacz

Semi-final predictions: Novak Djokovic def. Daniil Medvedev, Roger Federer def. Rafael Nadal

Final prediction: Novak Djokovic def. Roger Federer

Updated Date:

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