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Preview: Stefanos, Andrey Face Moment Of Truth

  • Posted: Nov 16, 2020

The term “desperate times call for desperate measures” likely originates from the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates and the humanist scholar Erasmus, who is, by our unofficial reckoning, the second most famous person to have lived in Basel after Roger Federer.

Erasmus didn’t have Tuesday night’s Stefanos Tsitsipas- Andrey Rublev showdown in mind when he wrote (in Latin) malo nodo, malus quærendus cuneus in 1500, but the adage couldn’t be more appropriate for the match. Both men lost their first matches at The O2 and will come into their Tuesday night throw-down desperate for a stay of execution.

Losing one’s first two matches at the Nitto ATP Finals isn’t the final nail in a player’s coffin, but it’s an ominous sign to be sure. The last time a man advanced after losing his first two matches was in 2006, when the Argentine David Nalbandian managed the feat. Since then, just one player—Kei Nishikori, in 2016—has advanced with a 1-2 record. Nishikori didn’t lose his first two matches, just his first and third matches, both in three sets.

Stefanos Tsitsipas

A win for either player would be a turning point. For, Tsitsipas, a patriotic Greek, it could be like the Battle of Marathon, in 490 B.C., when the outnumbered Greeks repelled the Persians; for Rublev, a proud Russian, a win could be like his Battle of Stalingrad, when the Russian army defeated the Germans, turning the tide of World War 2. The outcome of the match won’t change world history, but it will be pivotal in determining who advances from Group London 2020.

Tsitsipas, 22, and Rublev, 23, are two of the brightest young stars in the game. But please don’t refer to this match as a #NextGenATP matchup. The Greek made it quite clear recently in Paris that he’s wearing big boy tennis shorts these days.


“I would like to tell you that I’m not a Next Gen player any more,” said Tsitsipas, who recently hung out with NBA star the “Greek Freak” Giannis Antetokounmpo . “I’m a proper adult now.”

The not-so Next Gen matchup of Tsitispas, dubbed the “Jesus Christ of tennis” by Fabio Fognini, versus Rublev, or “Rubles” as he’s sometimes called, figures to be a very even contest. The players have split four ATP Head2Head matches, with each man winning one match on a hard court and one on clay. The Greek star won their only indoor match, at the 2018 Next Gen ATP Finals in five sets. Rublev saved two match points, winning 9-7 in a third-set tie-break, in their first match on the ATP Challenger Tour in 2017.

Andrey Rublev

Rublev, known for his sharp and abrupt grunts that sound vaguely like what one hears in karate and judo tournaments, is 40-9 on the year, with 11 of those wins coming in the season’s three majors. Tsitsipas is 28-13 and is the defending champion of the event. Rublev, who has a Tour-leading five titles this year, is making his first appearance. Tsitsipas should have more confidence heading into the match, as he played well in a tough three-set loss to Dominic Thiem in his opening match, while Rublev looked a bit shaky at times in his straight-sets loss to Nadal in his first throw-down.

The Russian, who admitted he was a “little bit nervous” in the match, had no break points against Nadal and won just 22 per cent of his return points against the Spaniard. He’ll need to do significantly better than that to have a chance to beat Tsitispas.

If their past encounters are any indication of coming attractions, expect a battle, perhaps even a marathon. “[Andrey] is one of the most difficult opponents and for sure has been in a great run these past couple of weeks, playing a lot of finals and having a lot of titles in his pocket,” said Tsitsipas.

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Preview: Thiem, Nadal Ready For Another Heavyweight Showdown

  • Posted: Nov 16, 2020

Six years ago, Dominic Thiem took just seven games off of Rafael Nadal in their first ATP Head2Head meeting over three unpleasant—at least for him—sets in a second-round match at Roland Garros.

This was well before he bleached his hair blonde or frosted his tips, before his mom, Karin, started collecting symbolic tattoos for all of his tournament wins, before his friend Roger Federer poked fun at his Schwarzenegger-esque accents (German and English), before he won the US Open. Despite the one-sided nature of that 2014 affair, Nadal sensed that the young Austrian, then 20, would be a man to be reckoned with in the years to come.


“The new generation have to come, we’re not going to be here for 10 more years,” Nadal said in 2014 after that first match. “Dominic will be there in a short period of time and he will have his chances to become a top star.”

Six years later, Nadal’s prediction that the Big 3 wouldn’t be around for 10 more years is debatable, but he was right on the money about Thiem, who is now ranked one spot behind the Mallorcan brawler at No. 3 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

Dominic Thiem owns 17 tour-level trophies.

James Brown may have been the hardest working man in show business, but the combatants in Tuesday’s first singles match at The O2 may be the hardest working men on the ATP Tour. Both are legendary for their gruelling training regimens. Thiem has said that media reports insisting that he used to train with tree trunks on his back, went on long night jogs in the woods, and swam in freezing cold rivers are exaggerated.

Maybe so, but he played in 31 events in 2015 and 28 in 2016 including Davis Cup and has remained committed to ATP 250 (Kitzbühel) and ATP 500 (Vienna) events in his home country. A writer from The New York Times dubbed him “The Boy Who Tried Too Hard”, and Nadal paid tribute to Thiem’s work ethic after his win Sunday.

“He’s a hard worker,” Nadal said of the Austrian. “Great guy, so I’m super happy for him to watch him win his first Grand Slam and he deserves it. He’s one of the guys on the Tour that really deserves the success because he’s a very hard worker.”

Both men won their first matches — Nadal in a rout over Rublev, Thiem in a tough three-setter over Tsitsipas — and so a second win for either will put them in the driver’s seat to make the event’s semi-finals. The rivals have squared off 14 times before, with Nadal holding a 9-5 edge. But they’ve never faced each other indoors and Thiem won their last battle, an Australian Open four-set, four-hour, 10-minute blood feud that featured three tie-breaks, all won by the Austrian. After the loss, Nadal was asked why he thought he lost all three tie-breaks.

“I don’t have a clear explanation, maybe because he played better than me,” Nadal said. “Normally that’s the reason why you win or lose tie-breaks.”

Nitto ATP Finals Group London 2020 Qualification Scenarios

Nadal and Thiem have played just one other time on a hard court — in the 2018 US Open quarter-finals —and that match, won by Nadal, featured thrilling tie-breaks in the fourth and fifth sets as well. Don’t be surprised if Tuesday’s winner is determined by more tie-breaks.

Thiem comes into the match with a 23-7 record on the season and he’s now 7-8 lifetime in five appearances at this event. He has more wins (17) at majors this year than anyone else in the field. With his win on Sunday against Rublev, Nadal upped his season record to 26-5, and his career mark at the Nitto ATP Finals to 19-14.

Nadal, 34, and Novak Djokovic, 33, are both bidding to become the oldest men to win the event. Roger Federer currently holds the record, having won at age 30 in 2011. Nadal has won 70 per cent of his indoor matches in his career; Thiem 59 per cent.

Rafael Nadal

Despite Thiem’s quality year and his win over Nadal in Australia, he said this week that he doesn’t consider himself one of the favourites to win the tournament.

“I think especially this year all eight players are in great form and are pretty much on a hot streak as well,” Thiem said. “Rafa and Novak because of all they have achieved and what they are, I think they’re a little bit above the other six.”

Nadal said he was pleased with how well he served in his first match but warned that his next two opponents — Thiem and Tsitsipas — were two of the Tour’s toughest outs. “[Thiem] is a great player,” Nadal said on Sunday. “He’s improving every year. For me, [it’s] going to be a tough one. Hopefully for him, too.”

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Even Without A Crowd, Djokovic Still Sharing The Love

  • Posted: Nov 16, 2020

There are no fans at The O2 for this year’s Nitto ATP Finals because of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is still sharing the love.

After defeating Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-2 in his first match of Group Tokyo 1970 play on Monday afternoon, the Serbian did his customary celebration, sharing his heart with all four sides of the court.

“That’s my celebration. That’s my also gratitude to the court and to this opportunity to be able to compete. Even though it might sound like a phrase, but I try to remind myself [not to] take things for granted, and that’s one of the routines that reminds me of the things that I have to be aware of,” Djokovic said. “Even though there was no crowd in stands, I know there were a lot of people watching it on TV, so that was me sharing that emotion with them.”

Although the scoreline was a familiar one — Djokovic has not lost his opening Nitto ATP Finals match since his 2007 debut — the atmosphere was not.

“It was very strange, to say the least. It felt like a practice session, in a way,” Djokovic said. “But of course [with the] chair umpire calling the score, you already feel you’re part of the official match. My mindset hasn’t changed much in terms of my approach to the match and what I need to do and how I focus. But I do miss the crowd.”

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This was the top seed’s 51st match at the season finale and Schwartzman’s first. Although the Argentine will be disappointed with his loss, Djokovic was quick to recall that he lost his first three matches at this tournament.

“Back in 2007 was my debut in Shanghai, and I lost all three matches in the group,” Djokovic said. “Obviously you have some examples of [Grigor] Dimitrov and [Stefanos] Tsitsipas [who] won on their debuts. They won the title, which was also very, very impressive. I think the format allows, even though you lose a match, to still have a chance to qualify for semis, and you have plenty of motivation in terms of points.

“Obviously every match that you win you get to win 200 points, which is almost [like] winning an [ATP] 250 event. So I think there is plenty of motivation for Diego. I’m sure that he wants to try to play better than he did today. Let’s see how that goes.”

Djokovic will turn his attention to the rest of Group Tokyo 1970 as he continues his pursuit of a record-tying sixth Nitto ATP Finals title.

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Granollers/Zeballos Make Winning Start In London

  • Posted: Nov 16, 2020

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos made a successful start to their team debut at the Nitto ATP Finals on Monday. The fourth seeds moved past sixth seeds John Peers and Michael Venus 7-6(2), 7-5.

The Rome champions saved five of the six break points they faced to earn their first victory in Group Bob Bryan after one hour and 42 minutes. Granollers and Zeballos improved to 23-6 as a team in 2020. They are chasing their fourth trophy of the season, following title runs on clay in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Rome earlier this year.

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

Granollers and Zeballos doubled their ATP Head2Head series lead against Peers and Venus to 2-0. The Spanish-Argentine duo also beat Peers and Venus en route to the Internazionali BNL d’Italia trophy in September.

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

Granollers and Zeballos saved the only two break points of the first set en route to the tie-break, where they punished their rivals for missing their opportunities. The fourth seeds used the lob in crucial moments in the first set and Zeballos converted their first set point with a dipping backhand return.

Granollers and Peers committed errors early in the second set, as the teams exchanged early breaks. Venus stayed calm under pressure to fire an ace when facing match point at 4-5, deciding point in the second set, but Granollers and Zeballos claimed the win two games later. The pair played with aggression on their returns and Zeballos clinched the win with a crosscourt backhand return winner.

Peers and Venus were also attempting to earn a win on their team debut at the season finale. The sixth seeds were appearing together for the first time since their quarter-final loss to eventual champions Felix Auger-Aliassime and Hubert Hurkacz at the Rolex Paris Masters.

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Federer: ‘I’d Go To The Moon’ To Play Nitto ATP Finals

  • Posted: Nov 16, 2020

If you ask tennis fans and historians what’s been most impressive about Roger Federer’s career, you’ll invariably hear a litany of his best-known achievements and records. 20 majors. Career Grand Slam. 23 consecutive major semi-final appearances. 310 weeks at World No. 1, including being the oldest No. 1 (at 36 years, 320 days). 103 ATP titles. 1,242 wins.

Among those gaudy feats is the fact that he’s also been the undisputed king and heavyweight champion of the sport’s most difficult tournament to qualify for: the Nitto ATP Finals.

The Maestro from Münchenstein has mastered the event that used to be called The Masters, qualifying for the elite event an astonishing 14 times in a row from 2002-2015. He’s won the title six times, and has reached the final 10 times, both tournament records. And he’s excelled while facing the world’s best, compiling a 59-17 record while playing in the event 17 times in three countries.

Simply put, the Nitto ATP Finals has often been the cherry on top of some of Federer’s finest seasons, the final exam he aces before going off on holiday. In a recent Zoom call he joined from his home in Switzerland with tennis legends Bjorn Borg and Tim Henman, Federer spoke of how important the event has been to him throughout his career.

“Honestly it doesn’t matter where it (the event) moves, any player will go where it goes,” said Federer, 39, who was in great spirits on the call. “I would go to the moon if I could.”


Let’s go way back in time to a galaxy far, far away when Roger Federer wasn’t a household name yet. In 2003, when he won what was then called the Tennis Masters Cup outdoors in Houston, he wasn’t yet a fan favourite. He had won Wimbledon, his first major, earlier that year, but he hadn’t yet made a splash in America. He and some other players were less than thrilled that the tournament had switched to becoming an outdoor event and the Texas crowds favoured the Americans: Andy Roddick, then the top seed, and Andre Agassi, who was by then an icon.

The upstart Swiss, seeded third, beat Agassi 9-7 in a third-set tie-break in the round-robin phase, and then proceeded to obliterate David Nalbandian, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andy Roddick and then Andre Agassi in a three-set final that took all of 88 minutes. He had followed up his Wimbledon title that year with a fourth-round loss at the US Open, so the win in Houston proved that he was no one-hit wonder.

“Qualifying for the Tennis Masters Cup (that year) was a huge deal,” Federer told Henman. “It opened my belief that I could beat the best baseline players from the baseline. 2003 was a true breakthrough tournament for me at the time.”

The esteemed late tennis writer Bud Collins wrote after Roger’s win, “Forget the world rankings. Roger Federer is now the best in the business.”

At the time, Federer told the press, “I don’t know if I have the potential to improve, but I’m satisfied if I can maintain this level.”

Little did we all know that he would do much more than simply maintain his level of play in the years to come. Federer’s Lone Star state triumph served as a springboard for his most remarkable year, 2004, when he won three majors and then put an exclamation mark on a phenomenal 74-6 season by repeating as champion in Houston. It was the best year anyone on the Tour had had since John McEnroe went 82-3 in 1984.

In his recent interview, when asked to reflect on his favourite Nitto ATP Tour Finals stop, he said that he and Mirka loved Houston. And why not? He won both times the event was held there and didn’t drop a set.

Federer’s Shanghai years, 2005-8, were just as fruitful. Rene Stauffer reports in his Federer biography, Quest for Perfection, that Federer considered the city’s newly constructed Qizhong Tennis Center, with its typhoon-proof, retractable roof that opened in the space of a blooming magnolia, lucky because it was eight tonnes and had eight retractable pieces. Federer’s lucky number is eight—he was born on August 8—but his success in the Middle Kingdom wasn’t about lucky breaks.

Roger Federer Photo: Getty Images
Roger Federer successfully defended his first Tennis Masters Cup title in Houston in 2004. Photo: Getty Images

He earned two more titles in China’s so-called “Mo Du” or Magic City: 2006, when he dismantled James Blake in the final, and 2007, when he did the same to David Ferrer. He also suffered a heartbreaking five-set loss in the final to his old nemesis, David Nalbandian, in 2005.

Federer’s semi-final victory that year over Gaston Gaudio remains the only double bagel (6-0, 6-0) in tournament history, and the memory of it brought a big smile to his face on his Zoom call with Borg and Henman, though he sheepishly only mentioned it briefly before modestly concluding, “We won’t talk about that one.” (Perhaps he’s still a bit embarrassed that he provided just 50 minutes of entertainment to the fans that day?)

A year after the event moved to London’s O2 arena, Federer won the title for the fifth time in 2010, vanquishing his great rival Rafael Nadal in three sets. “There’s always pressure when I play Rafa indoors because I’m the favourite,” Federer told Henman of that match. “That changes depending on how things are going, but he’s always been a tough player for me to play against.”

Federer said that he loves the O2 arena because it’s nightclub dark, the fans are incredible and because James Bond landed on the roof of the place in the film The World is Not Enough. His win over Rafa there in 2010 remains one of his favourites. “It was a big one after being in Houston and Shanghai, to also win in London was something very special.”

The Swiss champ backed up that win with his sixth title the following year in 2011, his first campaign since 2002 when he failed to capture a major. “I don’t remember if I won slams those years (2010-11, he won one major in 2010, none in 2011), so it was a great way to finish the season,” Federer said of his final victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, whom he beat three Sundays in a row. “I was extremely relieved…(the feeling was) I can’t wait for the beach, I’m exhausted.”

Dr. Federer—remember, he has an honorary PhD from the University of Basel—has qualified for the tournament eight more times since he last won it, reaching at least the final four on every occasion. During that span, his other great rival, Novak Djokovic, has upped his ATP Tour Finals title haul from one to five, beating Roger in the final of the event in 2012, 2014 and 2015. (2014 was a walkover due to a back injury.)

It’s essentially a part-time job at this point in his career for Roger to keep all of his records straight, but he’s well aware that Novak has a chance to equal his record six Nitto ATP Finals titles this year. And the fact that he won’t have a chance to square off against the Serb and the other top players in the world due to his knee injury is a great disappointment to the Swiss legend.

Roger Federer Photo: Getty Images
Roger Federer’s title run in Shanghai in 2007 marked four titles in five years for the Swiss. Photo: Getty Images

But Federer is widely regarded as the best indoor player in tennis history, so he’ll likely be one of the men to beat as the event moves to Turn in 2021. And don’t bet against him being there. He recently said that he is “definitely not” retiring anytime soon, which was exactly the sweet news tennis fans have been craving in an otherwise grim year.

Will Roger compete at the season finale as a 40-something? Ten or even five years ago, this prospect would have seemed like a stretch. But consider what’s he’s already done at this premier event compared to other legends of the sport. First, look at his winning percentage while playing against the very best. He’s at 78%, compared to 73% for Boris Becker and Bjorn Borg, 72% for Djokovic, 71% for Sampras, and 63% for John McEnroe. Among those who have won the tournament multiple times, only Nastase (88%) and Lendl (80%) have higher winning percentages at the event, but Nasty had just 22 wins at the event and Lendl 39, compared to 59 for Roger.

How difficult is it to win this tournament six times? Just ask Jimmy Connors—the man Federer is chasing for the overall match-wins record. Connors, who was ranked in the Top 10 for 789 consecutive weeks, competed in the tournament 11 times but won it just once, compiling a pedestrian record of 18-17. How about Stefan Edberg, who was one of Roger’s idols as a kid and later became his coach? The Swedish great competed in the tournament nine times but won it just once and had an 18-14-lifetime record. For his part, Andre Agassi played in the event 13 times, won it just once and came away from it all with just 22 wins and 20 losses.

And so, if you’re busy heaping praise on the great Roger Federer, don’t forget the legend’s heroics at the Nitto ATP Finals over the years, and remember that he’s likely not done yet.

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Preview: Familiar Rivals Medvedev, Zverev Face Off

  • Posted: Nov 16, 2020

Like most wives, Daria Medvedeva occasionally has to field the odd complaint from her husband, Daniil. Before turning up at the ATP Masters 1000 event in Paris earlier this month, Daniil had a big one for her.

“I was actually, how can we call it, crying to my wife, not crying, but just complaining, ‘Oh my God, I don’t have the level, I don’t even have one final, I’m playing so bad,’ blah blah blah,” he recalled.

Medvedev won the tournament, beating his adversary Alexander Zverev in a hard-fought final. Perhaps not wanting to give away too much to his rivals, the 24-year-old Russian wizard didn’t reveal how his wife, a former Top 100 junior tennis player, boosted his spirits. But if he’s superstitious, he may want to bend his wife’s ear a bit more before Sascha Zverev, 23, has a chance to exact revenge on his rival Monday during their round robin rematch at The O2.

The players have a lot in common. Born 10 months apart, they’re both right-handers with two-handed backhands who stand 6’6” (198 cm) and live in Monaco. Both have Russian parents, Sascha’s from Sochi, Daniil’s from Moscow, and root for the Bayern Munich football club. Zverev has a dog named Lovik that has his own Instagram page. Medvedev once tweeted a video impersonation of his husky howling at the moon. Medvedev recently said that his goal on court is to “make (his) opponents crazy” and Zverev does the much the same with his booming serves and precision passing shots.


Zverev had success on the Tour earlier, but Medvedev has been closing fast and is now ranked three spots ahead of the German at No. 4 in the FedEx ATP Rankings.

The big men come into their round robin tilt like a pair of bucking broncos. The German is 27-9 on the season and has been on a tear, winning 12 of his past 13 matches, all indoors. Medvedev’s form prior to winning Bercy wasn’t as sharp, but he’s shown flashes of brilliance at times this season, particularly during his run to the semi-finals at the US Open, where he didn’t drop a set prior to losing to the eventual champion, Dominic Thiem.

Zverev holds a 5-2 ATP Head2Head edge in their rivalry, but the Russian has taken two of the past three encounters. Zverev has played in the Nitto ATP Finals four times, compiling a 7-5 record while winning the event in 2018, when he beat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic along the way. Last season, Sascha lost in the semi-finals of the event to Dominic Thiem. Medvedev qualified for the first time last year and went 0-3, though he held a match point against Rafael Nadal.

Both sounded confident and eager to get rolling this week. “London is a place where we love the atmosphere, we love the stadium and everything,” said Zverev, whose older brother Mischa, also plays on the Tour. “It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be different, but I’m still looking forward to playing in this beautiful stadium for the last time at the Nitto ATP Finals. It’s still going to be special.”

Medvedev, the name comes from the Russian root medved, which means bear, sounded less like a guy with a lot of complaints for his wife, and more like a man ready to take on the world, or at least the Group Tokyo 1970.

“I have confidence in myself so I think it will help me here in London,” he said.

“In Paris, everything went together. I played really good tennis, it was tough to miss and that’s why I’m in my best shape and that’s when it’s tough to beat me.”

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Nadal’s ‘Smart Match’ Against Rublev: ‘Tactically I Played Well’

  • Posted: Nov 16, 2020

Rafael Nadal cooled off the red-hot Andrey Rublev in a commanding straight-sets performance to start his 10th Nitto ATP Finals campaign, but the level-headed Spaniard isn’t letting himself get too satisfied after sealing a nearly ‘perfect’ debut. 

Nadal bossed proceedings for 77 minutes at The O2, broke the Russian’s serve three times and didn’t face a break point in either set en route to a smooth 6-3, 6-4 victory.

“There are no perfect matches, and in fact this was not really a perfect match,” Nadal said, speaking to the press in Spanish after the match. “It’s a match where I think Rublev committed more unforced errors than usual, and I think I was also serving very well. On courts like this, if you’re serving well and then you can take advantage of some returns, it can be complicated for the opponent. 


“I think I played a smart match, so I’m pretty happy with this victory. It was a tough opponent and a tough match, for many different reasons, and tactically I think I played it well.” 

The 20-time Grand Slam champion came into London trying to shake off the label of the player with the most Nitto ATP Finals appearances who has never won the title, recording two runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2013. He’s also qualified for the season-ending event a record 16 consecutive times, but missed six editions due to injury. 

Today’s strong start sends him to the top of Group London 2020, and Nadal was already looking ahead to his blockbuster second round robin match against US Open winner Dominic Thiem, last year’s finalist.  

“Of course it’s a positive start, but I have to play against Dominic [Thiem] and then Stefanos [Tsitsipas], so two of the toughest opponents that you can face.” Nadal said, adding, “[Thiem] is a great player. He’s improving every year. He’s a hard worker. Great guy, so I’m super happy for him to watch him win his first Grand Slam and he deserves it. He’s one of the guys on the Tour that really deserves the success because he’s a very hard worker.”

The match will be a repeat of their epic Australian Open quarter-final, with Nadal seeking revenge as Thiem toppled the top-seeded Spaniard in four sets en route to the final.

“For me, [it’s] going to be a tough one. Hopefully for him, too,” Nadal said. “I’m going to try to be ready for it. It’s going to be a big challenge, but I really hope the victory of today [will] help me for that match. And tomorrow I have a day off to practise, to keep working the way that I need, and I hope to be ready for it.”

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Preview: Schwartzman Set For Djokovic Showdown

  • Posted: Nov 16, 2020

When Diego Schwartzman was asked earlier this year what he did with his first significant paycheques earned on the Tour, he said that he “saved a lot” and then “started to go on holidays”. Typically at this time of year, the 28-year-old Argentine is on holiday. But this year he has to work. The workweek for the man who is nicknamed “El peque” (shorty in Spanish) starts on Monday against Novak Djokovic in an office he’s never worked at before: The O2 in London.

Schwartzman was candid Friday in admitting that he didn’t fancy his draw, and he’ll enter Monday’s showdown with a career 0-5 mark with no sets won on hard courts versus the Serb. But Diego comes from a long line of survivors who have beaten the odds. He’s the great-grandson of a Polish Jew who escaped from a train headed to a concentration camp during World War Two and ultimately made his way to Argentina. As a junior in Buenos Aires, he trained at Club Náutico Hacoaj, a sports club that was founded by and for Jews who were prohibited from playing at other local clubs because of their faith. The Schwartzmans were a family of modest means, and so his mother financed some of his travels and training by selling jewellery and trinkets at junior tournaments. At 5’7” in a sport full of giants, he knows a thing or two about beating the odds.

Visit Infosys 50 Year Data Dive into Nitto ATP Finals

Before facing Djokovic in Rome earlier this year, he said, perhaps not too hyperbolically, that he’d need to “play more than my 100 per cent to beat Novak”. On Friday, he gave himself a more modest goal for Monday’s encounter.

“Against Nole, you have to always play your 100%,” said Schwartzman, who currently has a career high FedEx ATP Ranking of No. 8. “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%, 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, so I hope to have opportunities in the match and for sure I’m going to try to take them.”

It’s been a year of firsts for the scrappy Argentine. He’s notched his first Top 5 win, his first ATP Masters 1000 final, first major semi-final appearance, and made his debut in the Top 10, among other accomplishments. But beating five-time Nitto ATP Finals champ Novak Djokovic would be his most impressive first of the season. The Serb has been lethal at the event, racking up a 36-14 career record over 13 appearances with titles in 2008 and 2012-2015.

Diego and Novak have never squared off on an indoor court before. Historically, the Serb has thrived indoors while Schwartzman has struggled. But the Buenos Aires native played well indoors in Cologne recently, beating Felix Auger-Aliassime in the semi-final before getting smacked down by Alexander Zverev. He then notched a couple of solid wins indoors in Bercy, over Richard Gasquet and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina before losing to eventual champion Daniil Medvedev. The bad news is he’ll have to face both Zverev and Medvedev later on in his potentially brutal workweek.


To make matters worse, Djokovic said on Friday that he feels highly motivated but also has less pressure this year since he’s already clinched year-end No. 1 in the FedEx ATP Rankings. That may be ominous news for Diego, but Djokovic said that he’s not taking Schwartzman for granted.

“He never played on this court but that probably is kind of releasing him from any pressure that he has to do well,” said Djokovic, 33, who can tie Roger Federer’s record six Nitto ATP Finals titles and break his record as the oldest winner with a win this week. “Diego is in great form this year, it’s been the best season of his life, he deserves to be part of this tournament. I have lots of respect for him, he’s a fierce competitor [and] one of the quickest players on the Tour.”

As tempting as a vacation with his girlfriend, Eugenia De Martino, an Argentine model, may be for him, Schwartzman didn’t sound like a man who was in a hurry to go off duty just yet.

“Usually at this time, I was always on holidays, and now I’m practising more than ever trying to beat the best guys on Tour,” he said. “So I’m very excited, I’m trying to enjoy every single moment here, but also I’m trying to work really hard. I have the opportunity to continue doing a good season.”

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