Nitto ATP Finals preview: Race for year-end No.1 goes to the wire, Djokovic targets record

Nitto ATP Finals preview: Race for year-end No.1 goes to the wire, Djokovic targets record
Nitto ATP Finals preview: Race for year-end No.1 goes to the wire, Djokovic targets record
Nitto ATP Finals preview: Race for year-end No.1 goes to the wire, Djokovic targets record
The Nitto ATP Finals begins on November 13th, as the world's best eight players battle it out to claim the final trophy of the season. Novak Djokovic (35) goes in as the favourite despite his loss to Holger Rune in Paris, while Rafael Nadal (36) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (24) will also have their eyes on another prize.

Turin hosted their first ever ATP Finals in 2021 after London's 12-year stint, with Alexander Zverev beating Daniil Medvedev 6-4, 6-4 to claim his second victory in this competition. However, the reigning champion misses out this year, after snapping his ligaments back at Roland Garros in June.

Unfortunately, the world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz (19) also had to pull out after suffering a stomach injury in his semi-final defeat to Rune in Paris, leaving his chances of finishing as the year-end No.1 no longer in his hands. But more on that later.

The opening stages are a simple round-robin format. Two groups of four, with each player taking on those in their bracket just once. The top two in each group go through to the semi-finals, with the winners of the Red Group taking on the runners-up of the Green Group, and visa versa. Should two players finish on the same number of points, then whoever has the better head-to-head round-robin result gains the advantage.

If three players are on the same number of points, it goes down to the highest percentage of sets won, and potentially the highest percentage of games won. 

Red Group

Novak Djokovic is the favourite to win the ATP Finals for a sixth time, which would equal the record held by Roger Federer. Despite the fact that he missed several tournaments this season due to being unvaccinated - including the Australian and US Opens - he still managed to come in eighth in the Race to Turin rankings, indicating just how good he has been in the past 12 months.

This is made even more impressive when you consider that there were no ranking points on offer during his Wimbledon triumph, as a result of Russians and Belarusians being banned from the competition. A win here in Italy would be the icing on the cake after his victories in Tel Aviv, Astana, and Rome alongside his major success in London. The Serb is notoriously good on indoor courts too, which is a huge factor in his results here.

However, he has undoubtedly been drawn into the toughest group. Of the three other players on his side, two of them have won the ATP Finals before, compared to the zero in the Green Group.

There's the number two seed Stefanos Tsitsipas. He claimed the title in London in 2019 after beating Dominic Thiem in the final but has endured an up-and-down season. He won the Monte Carlo Masters earlier in the year, then claimed a title on the grass in Mallorca.

At Grand Slam level, he reached the semi-final in Australia back in January, but a fourth-round exit in France, a dramatic third-round loss to Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon, and then a shock first-round loss to Daniel Galan in America summed up a very mixed campaign for the elegant Greek. A run to the semis in Paris just two weeks ago will give him confidence though, with his defeat coming in a thrilling three-set affair with Djokovic. 

Tsitsipas will have his eyes on another prize too. Should he win the trophy without losing a single match, he will, somehow, finish the season as the year-end No.1. This would make him the only slam-less man to do this in ATP history, and the first to do it since John McEnroe in 1982. While it is unlikely he gets through his group completely unscathed, it's definitely an added incentive.

2020 champion and last year's finalist, Daniil Medvedev (26), has had an extremely underwhelming season by his lofty standards. After suffering a heartbreaking defeat to Nadal from two sets up in the Australian Open final at the start of the year, he has failed to reach his typically relentless best. To be fair to him, his 12 months have been disrupted. After picking up an injury soon after that defeat Down Under, he then missed Wimbledon due to being from Russia.

Usually so prolific in the American hard court swing at the tail of the season, Medvedev struggled for form completely, with an early exit at the US Open as defending champion a real low. He went on to win his first titles of the year at Los Cabos and Vienna in August and October, but he still hasn't looked anywhere near his best. However, if he does click into gear, he will be a force to be reckoned with.

Andrey Rublev (25) will be cursing his luck, as he goes in as the big underdog of the group. The Russian has picked up four titles this year, which is his second most prolific year after 2020 (5 titles). In spite of this, he has typically failed to scare the big boys at Masters events and Grand Slams, but his strong baseline game did help him reach the quarter-finals of the French and US Opens. Expectations are that he will struggle in this group.

Green Group

A lot of the eyes this week will be on the No.1 seed, Rafael Nadal. The 22-time Grand Slam champion has had a phenomenal season, winning four titles including the Australian Open and Roland Garros at 36 years old.

But his ageing body is beginning to take a toll, and the second half of his year has been curtailed with injuries. Since having to pull out before his Wimbledon semi-final back in July with an abdominal injury, he has failed to gather any sort of momentum. Round of 32 defeats at Cincinnati and most recently Paris, as well as a Round of 16 exit to Frances Tiafoe at the US Open in the last few months, have been a real source of frustration for the Spaniard.

This is his 11th time at the ATP Finals, but he is yet to win the competition and has only reached the final twice. The indoor conditions do not suit Nadal's game, and he is often at breaking point with his body at this time of the year. As a result, he is not overly confident about making much of a mark in Turin.

"I like to spend days on the Tour, first of all, and then of course the last couple of months I was not able to spend a lot of time on the Tour,” he said.

I’m happy to be here, happy to be playing the last tournament of the year, sharing with the other top seven. I need practice, I need improvements, but I’m happy. I’m here to try my best and to try to achieve my goals.”

He also added: “Of course, it’s going to be a challenge, but I hope I will be ready to give myself a chance.

That’s what I am looking for, just practising as good as possible with the right attitude and just trying to be ready for the action that’s going to start on Sunday.”

He will be pleased with his draw though, with three relatively inexperienced players alongside him. He will be hoping that if he can get off to a brisk start, he can recapture some of the form that saw him claim two Grand Slams at the start of the year.

Nadal also has a chance of finishing as the year-end No.1, and his route to doing so is easier than Tsitsipas'. If he wins the title in Turin, he will claim this crown even with one loss in the group stage. But if he reaches the final without a defeat, he won't even need to win it to finish as the top man of 2022. 

With Nadal in the Green Group, is Casper Ruud (23). The Norwegian has really come into his own in 2022 and removed the stigma that he is purely a clay court specialist with brilliant displays on all surfaces.

Ruud reached two Grand Slam finals this year, becoming the first Scandinavian player since Stefan Edberg to do this. He did lose those finals to Nadal in France and Alcaraz at Flushing Meadows, but the improvement he has shown has been for all to see, and he has secured his spot as one of the world's best players. He has also picked up three titles.

In spite of that, these are the conditions he finds the hardest, similar to Nadal. In his own words, "my game is vulnerable on indoor hard courts".

His heavy topspin forehand is far less effective on the quicker, flatter courts, and early exits in all of his last few tournaments indicate that.

A man who absolutely adores these conditions though is Felix Auger-Aliassime (22), and he is coming in with bags of confidence. 

The wonderfully gifted Canadian won three tournaments in three weeks in October and followed that up with a semi-final run in Paris just two weeks ago. He won the first title of his career at the start of the year in Rotterdam, and his improvement has been rapid in the last few months.

His serve and big forehand are tailored-made for these conditions, and he will no doubt be fancying his chances of making it out of the group.

And finally, the most fortunate man of the tournament, Taylor Fritz (25). After finishing in ninth place in the Race to Turin, Alcaraz's withdrawal gave the American a golden ticket to the ATP Finals.

Despite this touch of luck, Fritz has had a very impressive breakout season. Victory at the Indian Wells Masters earlier this year was easily the biggest trophy of his career. He also reigned victorious in Eastbourne and Tokyo, and a quarter-final run to Wimbledon was his best-ever major performance.

His form may have waned a little in the last few weeks, but an appearance in Turin will come as a pleasant surprise, and he will be looking to make the most of it. 

The tournament kicks off on Sunday with Ruud taking on Auger-Aliassime in the afternoon session. Nadal faces Fritz later that evening.

Follow all the action from the ATP Finals on Flashscore.