New City, Familiar Faces As ATP Finals Begin In Turin

Matteo Berrettini, Alexander Zverev and Casper Ruud are seen ahead of the Nitto ATP Tour Finals (photo: Stefano Guidi/Getty Images for ATP)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 14, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

A year-end fixture on the ATP Tour for more than half a century, the 52nd edition of the Nitto ATP Finals – and first in Italy – began Sunday at the Pala Alpitour as defending champion Daniil Medvedev took on first-time qualifier Hubert Hurkacz for the third time this season during the day session and 2018 champion Alexander Zverev faced Matteo Berrettini in a rematch of their Madrid final in the featured night session match.

The Nitto ATP Finals are the culmination of a season gone well for each of the eight players gathered in Turin. While the city and venue may be different from the O2 Arena in London, which hosted the season-ending finale from 2009 to 2020, many of the participants are familiar, like last year’s title winner Medvedev from Russia and Zverev of Germany, who in addition to winning three years ago, earned an Olympic gold medal this summer. Plus, there’s World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who has won five Nitto ATP Finals titles, and is the player to beat this week in Turin.

The No. 2 seed Medvedev, this year’s US Open champion and a finalist at last week’s Rolex Paris Masters, came into his match against Poland’s Hurkacz trying to become the first ATP Finals champion to win back-to-back titles since Djokovic won four straight titles from 2012-15. The World No. 1 and top-seeded Serbian will play his first match on Monday afternoon against No. 8 seed Casper Ruud of Norway.

“We had the pandemic when we didn’t play for a long time [in 2020 and] I had some problems with my body,” said Medvedev during a pre-tournament press conference. Last year, he came into the ATP Finals after winning the 2020 Paris Masters title. “So, coming back was not easy, but these two tournaments last year brought back my confidence. It was enough for all this year, knowing that I could beat the best players in the world.”

Medvedev beats Hurkacz without facing any break points

In their third head-to-head this year, Medvedev and No. 7 seed Hurkacz looked to break their 1-1 tie. Both of their previous matches went the distance. First, Hurkacz beat Medvedev in the fourth round at Wimbledon in five sets, then the Russian won a third-set tie-break victory in Toronto.

Sunday afternoon in Turin would be no different as the Red Group opened play. After dropping the opening set, Medvedev recovered and came on strong to earn a 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4 victory, going the distance to win in two hours. It was his sixth victory in his last seven after losing the first set.

One very key stat was this: Medvedev did not face any break points on his serve. After placing 100 percent of his first 20 serves in play, he wound up winning 83 percent (54 of 65) of his first-serve points. Additionally, Medvedev struck 15 aces, hit 32 winners and made just eight unforced errors. By contrast, Hurkacz finished with 12 aces, hit 31 winners and committed 23 unforced errors.

“I had zero break points to save, so in a way I was never under pressure,” Medvedev said during his on-court interview. “I had only two games on Hubert’s serve where I had break points. Super happy to make this work and [that I] managed to get both breaks.”

Hukarcz won the opening set in a tie break on his fourth set point after Medvedev hit a fourth shot forehand wide. Then, Medvedev got the first of his two breaks in the match to go ahead 2-0 and immediately consolidated it. He went on to win the 34-minute set 6-3 in back of 10 winners and five-of-five at the net to level the match at a set each. Through the first two sets, it was a very evenly-played match and, once again like their first two meetings, would be decided by the final set.

Immediately, Medvedev broke Hurkacz and held his own serve for a 2-0 advantage. He pressured Hurkacz by lining up inside the baseline to receive his opponent’s serve – cutting off many angles in the process – and came into the net to finish off many points. As the set progressed, Medvedev upped his game and came alive, dictating points on his terms. Still up a break at 4-3 – and without facing any break points on his own serve – Medvedev moved to within a game of winning the match with an easy love hold, which was his sixth. A game later, under fast court conditions, Medvedev closed out the match on his first match-point opportunity for his 55th victory of the season – and 23rd in his last 26 – and sixth triumph in a row at the ATP Finals. He outpointed Hurkacz 96-81

“It wasn’t easy. The court is super fast,” Medvedev explained in a post-match interview with Tennis Channel. “I think not the court itself but together with the air [from the altitude] and the balls. I didn’t face any break points. So, I was not under pressure except the tie break. There were two games where I had break points on his serve. In a way I’m lucky. I’m happy with myself that I managed to keep my nerves and broke on two occasions, which was enough to win the match. …

“I was focused on making one good shot at the right moment, and most of the time, it was enough to win the points [and the match].”

Night comes alive for Italy but ends in tears for Berrettini

Meanwhile, the night session came alive when Berrettini walked out to face Zverev, who was making his fifth straight ATP Finals appearance – second most to Djokovic among this year’s participants. On Friday, No. 6 seed Berrettini said: “I feel the pressure, but it’s a good pressure. It’s so nice to be here. I know the crowd is going to be on my side, and I really cannot wait to step on the court.”

The No. 3 seed Zverev came in leading their head-to-head 3-1, which included one previous hard-court meeting in at the Shanghai Masters in 2019. He also brought with him 55 match wins this season, tied for first with Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

“Matteo is a superstar here, everyone likes him,” Zverev said during Friday’s media day. “I look forward to the match. We are among the best players in the world so there are no easy matches. I defnitely look forward to that match and the energy on Sunday.”

Sadly, after a riveting first set, won in a 9-7 tie-breaker by Zverev, Berrettini was forced to retire during the second game of the second set with a left oblique injury. Zverev got credit for the win, 7-6 (7), 1-0, retired, after an an hour and 41 minutes. But it certainly wasn’t the outcome anyone – least of all the players – wanted. It certainly dampened the spirts of the crowd that had shown its support for Berrettini.

“To be honest, I feel like crying right now,” Zverev said, still in shock as he was giving his on-court interview. “I don’t know what to say. Yes, it was a fantastic first set and the level was great, but at the end of the day it’s not important because at the end of the day what you want is both players to shake hands at the end of the match and go off the court healthy and prepare for the next one.”

While Zverev’s service games were lightening quick, Berrettini’s were slow and methodical but drew plenty of applause from the Italian fans. He saved four break points through his first four service games to remain on serve in the opening set at 4-3. By the time it reached 5-all, Zverev had only lost seven points on his serve compared to 16 for Berrettini. Later, Zverev saved two set-points on his serve to force a first-set tie break, which he went on to win 9-7 on his third set-point opportunity after Berrettini netted a third-shot backhand return as the match reached the 79-minute mark.

Soon, after an easy hold by Zverev, the next game went to deuce and it was apparent that Berrettini was in pain. He took a medical time out to receive treatment in the area around his left abdominal area. Then, after returning for one additional point, the Italian from Rome was unable to continue. Berrettini walked off the court in pain and tears. He received a warm embrace from Zverev, who had hopped over the net to come to his friend’s aid and comfort.

“For Matteo, this is the worst feeling he can have because he’s playing all year long to qualify for this event; it’s so special because it is at home for him. We have 15,000 people here all cheering him on, and after one set the tournament is over for him. Right now, I don’t really want to talk about my match, I don’t want to say much about the match, that I won. I know Matteo personally so well. I feel real bad for him.”

Later, during his press conference, Berrettini reflected on the disappointing end to his match and updated his injury. He said:

“The atmosphere was one of the best I ever felt in my life. That’s why probably I feel so bad right now. The thought of not finishing the match … I wasn’t able to finish the match, it’s killing me. 

“First, I have to figure out what it is and then … You know, mentally, if I see that it’s nothing really big then maybe I can play. But like this, it was impossible. Obviously, it’s killing me, it’s probably the worst day I’ve had on a tennis court in my life.”

Next, Zverev will play Medvedev on Tuesday, while Hurkacz will face Berrettini, provided he is healthy. Otherwise, if he is forced to withdraw from the remainder of the ATP Finals, he would be replaced by first alternate and fellow Italian Jannik Sinner.

Top seeds Mektic and Pavic garner 60th match win of season

The top-seeded team of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both from Croatia, kicked off the Nitto ATP Finals doubles competition with a 6-4, 6-4 over No. 8 seeds Kevin Krawietz of Germany and Horia Tecau of Romania. It was their 60th match win of the season. While Mektic, 34, and Pavic, 28, have already clinched the year-end No. 1 after winning nine regular-season titles, a 10th title would be a crowning achievement in their first year together as a team.

Mektic’s ace up the middle – his team’s 11th of the match – secured match point during their 77-minute win, which was their third of the year against Krawietz and Tecau. They outpointed their opponents 59-49.

Following their opening win, Mektic and Pavic were presented the year-end No. 1 doubles trophy by ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi during an on-court ceremony.

“Obviously we are extremely happy with this,” Pavic said during the trophy ceremony. “It’s the first time for Nikola, third time for me and the first time that two Croatians lifted this trophy at the end of the year. I just wanted to say thank you to all the team over there, the coaches, girlfriends, everybody. Thanks a lot, and I hope you’re going to enjoy some tennis this week.”

Granollers and Zeballos rally to win in match tie-break

The evening session doubles match was captured by No. 4 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos (25-11, two titles this season) over No. 6 seeds Ivan Dodig of Croatia and Filip Polasek of Slovakia, 4-6, 7-6 (10), 10-6, in two hours and three minutes.

After dropping the opening set, Granollers and Zeballos saved four second-set match points and won the set on their fifth set-point opportunity to extend it to a match tie-break. Then, the Spanish/Argentine duo pulled out the victory on their third match point following an eight-shot back-and-forth exchange with Dodig and Polasek.

Sunday’s Nitto ATP Finals results

Monday’s Nitto ATP Finals order of play

By the numbers

Turin is the 15th different city to host the Nitto ATP Finals and is contracted through at least 2025. Most recently, the year-end finale was held at The O2 in London, which welcomed 12 consecutive editions from 2009-20.

“Quotable …”

“I have played good tennis this year. I’ve won five titles and I’m the only player who has won multiple Masters this year. It comes with good tennis, also, at the Olympics, I won a gold medal. I am looking forward to this tournament. I didn’t come here just as a participant, but I want to win matches and do well here.”

– Alexander Zverev of Germany, World No. 3, who won the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals title.