November 9th, 2018

ATP World Tour Finals Preview: Can anyone stop Novak?

London’s O2 Arena will host the season-ending ATP Finals this week for the 10th time. An elite eight-player field are split into two groups – Group Guga Kuerten and Group Lleyton Hewitt. Two players from each group will advance to create the semi-final line up.

 

“The man to beat”

Earlier this year, Novak was a shadow of the player we all know he can be. His ranking in May was his worst since he was emerging onto the circuit as a fresh faced 19 year old. There were many who thought Novak was finished.

However, in true Djokovic style, he has silenced the critics knocking Rafael Nadal off the No.1 spot.  He is the first player to be ranked outside the Top 20 then climb to World No.1 one in the same season since Safin in 2000.

He has won the last two major championships and will take some stopping this week.

“What Novak has achieved this season has to go down as one of the great sporting comebacks” (Chris Kermode, ATP President)

 

The Groups:

Group Guga Kuerten: Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic and John Isner

 

Novak Djokovic:

Novak’s run of 22 consecutive wins came to an end in last week’s Paris Masters final; although it proved he is beatable he was certainly struggling for fitness after draining encounters taking out Cilic and Swiss rival Roger Federer.

There is certainly a glimmer of hope for the rest of the group. That said, if Novak is anywhere near full fitness, he will be a heavy favourite to top the group especially with rival Nadal absent through injury.

 

Alexander Zverev:

Zverev is many pundits tip to be a multiple major champion. However, in recent months, the young German has struggled to cope with the weight of expectation especially at grand slam level.

He qualified largely through his impressive victories at the Madrid Open and on home soil in the Bavarian Championships

At 21, this is already his second appearance at the season ending championship. He has plenty of weapons at his disposal and is a dark horse to come out of this group over the much fancied Djokovic.

 

Marin Cilic:

Cilic has had a rollercoaster year starting in spectacular fashion narrowly missing out in the Australian Open final to Roger Federer. His best week came at Queen’s Club where he took out Novak Djokovic in the final.

The Croat pushed Novak very close last week and has the knowledge he can beat him on the big stage. Despite having a dismal record in London, he is well equipped to challenge this year in an open group.

Instead of focusing on the Novak match, I believe he is better served to prioritise the tussle with Zverev which could decide who joins Novak in the semis.

 

John Isner:

The 6ft8 American is the beneficiary of Nadal’s withdrawal and completes the line-up of Group Guga Kuerten.

For those who don’t know much about Isner, he possesses one of the greatest and biggest serves in tennis history. He also took part in the longest match in tennis history against Nicholas Mahut lasting a whopping 11 hours in a Wimbledon epic.

Isner has enjoyed a successful year picking up his biggest title in Miami taking out Zverev in the final. This set him up for a run at Wimbledon where he played out a five set thriller against Kevin Anderson narrowly losing in the semi-final.

Expect plenty of aces and a few tie breaks when big Isner is on court!

 

Lleyton Hewitt Group: Roger Federer, Kevin Anderson, Dominic Thiem and Kei Nishikori

 

Roger Federer:

Arguably the GOAT, Roger started 2018 in emphatic fashion winning the Australian Open. Since then he has added another three titles including his home title in Basel for the ninth time.

Feds pushed Novak very close last week in Paris where he was a mere tie break away from taking out the Serb. Although he couldn’t get over the line, there were encouraging signs as he found his serving form leaving the Serb under pressure and frustrated at his lack of chances.

He last won the ATP Finals in 2011 and it would be fitting if he ends the run this week winning his 100th title on one of the sport’s biggest stages.

 

Kevin Anderson:

Ando took out Isner in the semis of Wimbledon earlier this year 26-24 in the fifth set. Unfortunately for him, he couldn’t recover physically in time for the final against Novak where he failed to give the best account of himself.

That said, the South African is in the form of his life and is a recent winner on the ATP Tour winning in Vienna against Nishikori who joins him in this group.

Kevin could be a dark horse to top the group having already beaten Federer earlier this season.

 

Dominic Thiem:

Thiem is still yet to transfer his impressive clay court game onto hard courts. He won on clay twice this year in Argentina and Lyon before losing in the French Open final to Nadal.

The Austrian has powerful groundstrokes off both sides but has his work cut out with a very tough looking group.

 

Kei Nishikori:

Like Isner, Kei finds himself in the tournament through an injury withdrawal – he replaces Del Potro.

Nishikori has always been under the microscope as one of Japan’s greatest sportsmen, he was supposed to be Japan’s first major winner. However, Naomi Osaka had other ideas and she won the US Open to become Japan’s first major champion.

It can’t have been easy to play with the weight of expectation of a nation on your shoulders but with Osaka winning we could see the best of Kei as they can share the pressure.

He started off the year playing in Challenger events so has done well to make it into this week. On his day Nishikori is a match for anyone.

 

Closing Thoughts:

The withdrawal of Nadal gives Novak an easier passage to the semis – Even if Nadal played, and Novak was to win, it would damage him physically and affect his fitness levels for the semis. As it is, if he can negotiate Isner’s serve it will give him a big advantage over the other group.

I’d have Zverev down as the danger man as he has the game and the tempermant to perform on the big stage. That said, I hope we are treated to a Novak Roger showdown to end the 2018 season in style.

 

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