Untouchable Djokovic Begins Quest For 6th ATP Finals Title

WASHINGTON/LONDON, November 16, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Five-time ATP Finals champion and World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and World No. 9 Diego Schwartzman, making his Nitto ATP Finals debut, have already met twice during the pandemic-interrupted 2020 season and five times overall. So, they are certainly no strangers to each other.

Perhaps, it’s the familiarity that benefited Djokovic the most as he rolled to his sixth consecutive win over the diminutive Argentine. On Monday afternoon inside near-empty O2 Arena in London, Djokovic opened his quest for his sixth ATP Final title with a routine 6-3, 6-2 victory in one hour and 18 minutes. The win – Djokovic’s 40th, which tied him with Andrey Rublev – improved his 2020 win-loss record to 40-3 and dropped Schwartzman to 25-13.

At times, the year-end No. 1 Djokovic looked untouchable.

Djokovic took advantage of four service breaks – two in each set – and only when he trailed 1-2 at the start of the match was he forced to play from a position of being behind. Ahead comfortably, the Serbian closed out the match on his third match-point opportunity. He hit a forehand winner that put a tidy wrap on a five-shot rally. Djokovic finished with 26 winners – 15 from his forehand, four from his backhand and seven aces – and hit 14 unforced errors. He won 65 percent (13 of 20) of his second-serve return points to 35 percent (6 of 17) for Schwartzman. As the first Argentina player at the Nitto ATP Finals since Juan Martín del Potro in 2013, Schwartzman hit 11 winners but committed 13 unforced errors. Djokovic outpointed his opponent 59-40.

During his post-match interview on court, Djokovic, who improved to 12-1 in opening day matches, said the match was closer than it might have looked. “The beginning of the match wasn’t that great for me,” he said. “He broke my serve in the third game and I managed to break [back]. It was a close encounter until I broke his serve at 4-3 and managed to close out the first set.

“In the second set, I started swinging through the ball a little more [with] a bit less hesitation from both corners. I was very pleased with the way I played in the second set. Tough for Diego because it’s his debut, first match in the arena. He probably wasn’t playing his best during the closing moments of the first set. He made some unforced errors that enabled me to get the lead. It was a good opening match and I’m looking forward to the next challenge.”

Before the match, Schwartzman, whose current World No. 9 ranking is a career-high, said “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. 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.”

During his virtual post-match press conference, Schwartzman added: “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. It’s very difficult to see or to know what he’s going to do and [to] to try to make good points. … He has a lot of talent when he has the chance to move the ball.”

Medvedev looking to forget last year’s results

No. 4 seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia and No. 5 seed Alexander Zverev from Germany, who won the biggest title of his young career two years ago at the Nitto ATP Finals, met in Monday’s evening match. They faced each other in the final of the Rolex Paris Masters eight days ago, won by Medvedev. It gave the Russian No. 1 his first ATP Tour title of 2020 and it was his third career ATP Masters 1000 crown.

A year ago, Medvedev’s Nitto ATP Finals debut didn’t go as planned – he lost all three of his group play matches. This year, he’s one of four former Next Gen ATP players in the eight-man field along with Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev. Medvedev, 24, came in with a five-match winning streak and a 23-10 win-loss record. Meanwhile, the 23-year-old Zverev (27-9) is back in London for the fourth straight year and hoping to repeat his 2018 success.

Although Zverev led their career head-to-head 5-2 coming in, Medvedev made it two in a row and three of the last four with a 6-3, 6-4 win in one hour and 29 minutes.

As their head-scratching first set unfolded, there were two breaks and three holds and each game was like a grind-a-thon through the first five games. Both players grew tired quickly. Medvedev’s first hold, in the third game lasted 14 points and saw him save five break points. One of Medvedev’s ad-points lasted 29 shots. After 41 minutes, Medvedev broke ahead 4-2 following Zverev’s sixth double fault. Zverev had already committed 16 unforced errors. Medvedev consolidated the break for a 5-2 lead. Already, the two had played a whopping 64 points through the first seven games. Survival of the fittest? Maybe. Finally, after 51 minutes, Medvedev closed out the 73-point opening set 6-3 with his first ace to cap a love game.

In the second set at 3-all, Medvedev set up a break point at 15-40 by winning a 27-shot rally. He broke Zverev at the end of a 17-shot exchanged with a “moon ball” that Zverev netted with a forehand return. Ahead 4-3, could Medvedev close out the win? He won a point during his next service game with a surprising but tactically-smart underhand serve and held for 5-3. Then, a game later, he closed out the win with a flourish, hitting a cross-court backhand winner on match point. Medvedev, who outpointed Zverev 73-58, finished with 21 winners – 10 on his forehand, five on his backhand and six aces – and 21 unforced errors. Zverev hit 15 winners but committed 29 unforced errors and seven double faults. He was able to convert just one of six break-point opportunities.

“Confidence is the key, for sure. Winning the [Paris] gave me confidence,” said Medvedev during his post-match TV interview. “I knew that I can play good. It was a little bit shaky from both of us in the beginning from one [point] of view, but from the other [point] of view, I think there were some unbelievable points. To be honest, the intensity of the match was one of the most [intense] I had in my career.

“When you play a Top 10 opponent, you have to be there [ready] all the time.”

Granollers/Zeballos take lead in Bob Bryan Group

• No. 4 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos from Argentina overcame 12 service aces from No. 6 seeds John Peers of Australia and Michael Venus from New Zealand en route to a 7-6 (2), 7-5 win. They saved five of six break points they faced during the one hour and 42-minute match and won on their third match-point opportunity, breaking Peers and Venus. Granollers and Zeballos, who improved their 2020 win-loss record to 23-6, have won three titles this year – Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Rome.

“I feel really happy right now; it is an amazing feeling,” Zeballos said. “Just being here is really nice for me. It is the first time I have come [here], so I am trying to enjoy everything.”

Added Granollers: “It is really nice to be here with Horacio. It is my fifth time here, so I am very happy. To start with a win in two sets, there is no better way to start.”

• No. 1 seeds Mate Pavic of Croatia and Bruno Soares from Brazil defeated No. 7 seeds Jurgen Melzer of Austria and Edouard Roger-Vasselin from France, 6-7 (6), 6-1, 10-4, in one hour and 23 minutes. After losing a first-set tiebreak, Pavic and Soares were successful on more than 90 percent of their first serves and saved the only break point they faced. They outpointed Melzer and Roger-Vasselin 73-56.

“I think we played really well through the entire match. After the tiebreak, the key point was playing aggressive tennis to win the second set and carry it out through the rest of the match,” Soares said.

Added Pavic: “The season was a bit short, so it gives everyone an extra incentive to do well here. Every match is important. Hopefully we can continue to play well.”

Looking ahead to Tuesday

On Tuesday, Group London 2020 returns with first-day winners No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal facing World No. 3 seed Dominic Thiem during the afternoon session. Then, in the evening session, No. 6 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and No. 7 seed Andrey Rublev, meet in a must-win battle.

The Mike Bryan Group doubles is back on court starting with Sunday losers, No. 3 seeds Kevin Krawietz and Andreas Mies, both from Germany, against No. 8 Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo in the afternoon. Then, in the evening, it’s No. 2 seeds Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury against No. 5 seeds Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic.

Nitto ATP Finals results

Nitto ATP Finals standings

What they’re saying

Diego Schwartzman:  I’ve really been enjoying the experience and training really hard because nobody handed me a spot here, I earned it tournament by tournament. At this stage, I know I need to be at the highest level, so I’ve been training hard and I have almost my entire team with me here these past few days. 

“But without a doubt I’m really enjoying my time here, and enjoying this spot that I earned. I watched all of yesterday’s matches and I enjoyed the spectacle of it and all the global buzz that generates around each match.”

Around the Nitto ATP Finals 

• On Sunday, Novak Djokovic received the year-end World No. 1 trophy for a record-equaling sixth time. Djokovic, who has won four trophies this year, equaled his boyhood tennis idol Pete Sampras with six year-end No. 1 finishes. Sampras earned his year-end No. 1 awards between 1993-98. Djokovic has also won the year-end No. 1 trophy in 2011-12, 2014-15 and 2018.

• Novak Djokovic’s victory over Diego Schwartzman on Monday was his 37th at the Nitto ATP Finals.