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Win & You’re In! Djokovic, Zverev Vie For SF Spot

  • Posted: Nov 20, 2020

Three years ago, when Novak Djokovic squared off against Alexander Zverev in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final, in their first meeting, the Serb came into the match looking invincible. He hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament and had just beaten up on Roberto Bautista Agut, Juan Martin del Potro and Dominic Thiem, dropping only a single game against the Austrian star.

At the time, Sascha Zverev was 20, with a FedEx ATP Ranking of No. 17. But Zverev shocked Djokovic and the tennis world with a 6-4, 6-3 win, securing a place in the Top 10 for the first time. After the match, he spoke about how his career expectations had evolved over the years.


“When I was 11 or 12, I thought I’d probably win about four Slams already by the age of 20,” said Zverev, who met all the top stars when he was a little boy, thanks to his older brother, Mischa, who was on the Tour. “Then when I was 16, everything started to be more realistic. I could not imagine Top 10 by the age of 20. It’s something truly amazing.”

Alexander Zverev is seeking his third indoor title of 2020.

The following year, 2018, Djokovic scored two convincing wins against the German, dropping just three games against him in Shanghai and only five in a one-sided round-robin match at the Nitto ATP Finals. But Zverev pulled off another shocker, beating Djokovic in the final of the event. On Friday afternoon, he’ll have another chance to upset the World No. 1 with a victory in a winner-moves-on, loser-goes-home showdown at The O2.

Djokovic comes into the match coming off a surprisingly flat performance in a straight-sets loss to Daniil Medvedev. He said after the match that he went through a spell of not feeling well for 15-20 minutes but was feeling better by the end of the match. On media day last week, the Serb champion said that Medvedev and Zverev were two of the most dangerous opponents in the sport.


“Zverev and Medvedev are probably in the best form of anyone at this tournament indoors,” he said. “They’ve won two tournaments in a row and played in the finals in Paris. Those guys are very tall and have big serves and lots of weapons from the back of the court, solid backhands and forehands also. They’re complete players both of them and [they have] similar styles. You have to be at your best to win against those guys the way they’re playing indoors.”

Novak Djokovic will face Alexander Zverev for a place in the Nitto ATP Finals semi-finals on Friday.

Nole, as he’s called in the Balkans, owns a 3-2 edge in their budding rivalry. They haven’t faced each other since Djokovic beat Zverev at Roland Garros last year in straight sets in the quarter-finals. Zverev appeared to be struggling with his second serve in his opening loss to Daniil Medvedev, but righted his ship in his second match, a win against Diego Schwartzman, firing 10 aces against just three double faults.

Both lost in straight sets to Medvedev, but Novak got past Schwartzman in two sets, whereas the Argentine took Zverev the distance before succumbing. The keys to the match will be Zverev’s serve and Djokovic’s consistency. The Serb made an uncharacteristic 22 unforced errors against Medvedev. Assuming Djokovic cleans up the errors, he’ll be the favourite. But he won’t be the prohibitive favourite that he was coming into their previous encounters. A huge serving day from the German could help him engineer another upset. Zverev said last Friday that he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“Novak is a great player no matter where you play him. He’s tough to beat,” Zverev said. “I played him twice here in the same year. Obviously I won once, I lost once. He’s going to be difficult. I think he’s the favourite in our group and everybody’s going to look forward to playing him. You have to play your best to have a chance against him.”

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Preview: Diego Plays For Pride Against Medvedev

  • Posted: Nov 20, 2020

The phrase “third time’s a charm” or “third time’s lucky” as they say in the UK may come from Old English law, wherein those who survived three hangings would be set free. The law was apparently inspired by the story of John “Babbacombe” Lee, a Brit who was convicted (on flimsy grounds) of stabbing his employer to death in 1885 and was sentenced to death by hanging. The trapdoor on the scaffolding beneath him failed to open on three occasions, he was spared, served 22 years in prison and then cashed in on his notoriety with lecture tours and a film.

Luckily for Daniil Medvedev and Diego Schwartzman, no such gruesome fate awaits them Friday night in the final round-robin match played at The O2. But Schwartzman, who comes into the match 0-2, will hope that the “third time’s lucky” adage works in his favour. As he pointed out in his press conference after losing a tough three-setter to Alexander Zverev Wednesday, the Nitto ATP Finals is a uniquely difficult and sometimes cruel tournament.


Everyone is a top player, so seeds don’t have the opportunity to work their way into the event. And at every other tournament, the worst thing that can happen to a player is a single loss, while in the season finale, an unlucky fellow could head home for the holidays with three losses in a week. But the beauty of the event is that players also have a chance to measure themselves against the world’s best, and they have an opportunity for redemption, even after multiple losses.

Diego Schwartzman

Medvedev, already 2-0, has won Group Tokyo 1970, and Schwartzman cannot advance to the semi-finals with a win Friday night. But Diego has an opportunity to escape the proverbial hangman’s noose with a win, which would net him 200 FedEx ATP Rankings points, $153,000, and a big boost of confidence heading home to Argentina.

Schwartzman said after his loss to Zverev that he was pleased to have staged a comeback bid after losing a lopsided first set. “I’m happy because
I almost did a good comeback,” said Schwartzman, 28. “The match was going all his way quickly in the first set and second set. Then I find a way to win the second set and fighting the third.”

Daniil Medvedev won 76 percent of points on his first serve in the first set.

Medvedev, 24, ranked No. 4, is flying high after notching convincing victories over Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic on the heels of winning the Rolex Paris Masters earlier this month. But he insisted that he wouldn’t overlook his final match.

“I finished number one in the group already, which is great,” he said. “Of course I’m going to try to win my third match.”


Medvedev has beaten the Argentine in all four of their ATP Head2Head encounters, dropping a set just once, at the ATP Cup in January. He’s especially good indoors, conditions which don’t naturally suit Diego. The Argentine jokingly lamented his tough draw and the long road he has ahead of him. After the tournament, he’ll return to Argentina and will then have — by his reckoning — 40 hours of flights to reach Australia for the Australian Open. Even for a man of 5’7”, all that airline travel will be a tribulation, but much less so if he winds up his season with an upset win over one of the hottest players on the Tour.

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After Banner Year, Rublev Targets ‘Much Improvement’ In 2021

  • Posted: Nov 19, 2020

Andrey Rublev came into his final Nitto ATP Finals match against Dominic Thiem with nothing to lose but with plenty to gain, including 200 FedEx ATP Rankings points, $153,000 and the potential for a sweet ending to what’s been a breakout year for him.

Thiem had already won Group London 2020 and Rublev had already been eliminated by virtue of his 0-2 start. With the pressure off, Rublev, 23, was able to capture the form that earned him five titles and his first Nitto ATP Finals appearance this season, beating the Austrian 6-2, 7-5 in 74 minutes at The O2.

After the match, an upbeat Rublev told reporters that he was more than pleased with his excellent 41-10 season.

“I’m grateful for everything that’s happened to me,” said Rublev, who fired 11 aces in the match and won 65 per cent of his second-serve points. “I won more tournaments in this year than I’ve won in my life.”

Andrey Rublev was presented with his ATP Top 10 trophy at the Nitto ATP Finals after breaking into the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time on 12 October.

Andrey Rublev was presented with his ATP Top 10 trophy at the Nitto ATP Finals after breaking into the Top 10 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time on 12 October.

The Moscow-native, who is No. 8 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, said that he’s only going to rest for one week with his family, before heading back to the practice courts.

“There are still so many things I can improve,” he said. “That’s the main goal in the off-season. Now I’m really motivated to improve the main parts [of my game] before we start the new season.”

Rublev said he wasn’t focused on setting goals for his ranking in 2021 or how many titles he’d win, but instead on his fitness and the mechanics of his game. He sounded very much like a young man who isn’t at all content to simply be in the Top 10, which is an ominous prospect for his peers.

“There are so many things [to improve],” he said. “Physically I still can be much faster, I still can improve my defence. Out of the Top 10 players, I’m still one of the worst in this aspect. I can improve my serve, my volleys and my returns, my slices, backhands, still even forehands, there is still space for much improvement.”

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Rublev Finishes Breakthrough Season In Style

  • Posted: Nov 19, 2020

Andrey Rublev ended his debut appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals on Thursday with a 6-2, 7-5 victory against Dominic Thiem.

The Russian, who was eliminated from semi-final contention on Tuesday, won 80 per cent of first-serve points (28/35) to finish his breakthrough 2020 ATP Tour campaign with a 41-10 record. Rublev has now won three consecutive matches against Thiem and leads his ATP Head2Head series against the Austrian for the first time (3-2).

Rublev recovered well from the disappointment of failing to convert match point in his second round-robin match against Stefanos Tsitsipas. The seven-time ATP Tour titlist has ended Group London 2020 with one win from three matches and denied Thiem an undefeated round-robin record. Rublev also earned 200 FedEx ATP Rankings points for his victory at The O2.


Rublev made a perfect start at The O2, as he consistently attacked Thiem’s backhand and returned with depth to race into a 4-0 lead. The Russian won 100 per cent of his first-serve points (11/11) and he took the first set by serving and volleying on his second set point.

The 23-year-old covered the court well and capitalised on Thiem forehand errors to gain an early break in the second set. After dropping his serve at 4-3, Rublev ripped forehands and capitalised on double faults to serve for the match. The World No. 8 held serve with his 11th ace of the match.

Thiem was attempting to earn his 300th tour-level win. The Austrian, who guaranteed his position as Group London 2020 winner on Tuesday, will now prepare for his semi-final encounter against Novak Djokovic or Alexander Zverev on Saturday. Djokovic and Zverev will meet on Friday for the runner-up spot in Group Tokyo 1970.

In the evening session, Rafael Nadal will face Stefanos Tsitsipas for a place in the semi-finals. The winner will take on Group Tokyo 1970 winner Daniil Medvedev in the semi-finals on Saturday.

Did You Know?
Rublev currently leads the ATP Tour this season with 41 wins and five trophies. Only World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, who owns a 40-4 record and four titles this year, is within reach of those marks this week.

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How Tennis Masters Cup Shanghai Changed China's Sports Landscape

  • Posted: Nov 19, 2020

For 50 years, the Nitto ATP Finals has been a landmark event on the ATP Tour’s calendar. Tennis’ greatest champions have competed in the tournament, which has rotated through 14 different cities. In 2002 in Shanghai, the tournament became the most-viewed international sporting event ever staged in China at that time.

The city began hosting an event in 1996 — that tournament later became known as the Heineken Open — which intrigued the local government. “This is amazing. We want more of this kind of thing,” Charles Humphrey Smith, the Managing Director/International of Juss Event, remembers an official telling him at the time.

Juss Events, China’s largest sports and events management company, was then allowed by the government to bid for what was then called the Tennis Masters Cup. The state-owned organisation was successful and in 2002, the tournament was held in Shanghai for the first time.

“It’s very seldom that an event acts as a pivot-point in the sport,” Smith said. “For us in Asia, and obviously for the globe, hosting the Tennis Masters Cup in 2002 under the global tennis world’s watchful eye was a defining moment in tennis, and has led the way to some amazing new things that have grown both the men’s and women’s sport.”

It’s not often a major city closes down its biggest highway for anything, let alone a tennis tournament. But Shanghai did so in 2002 for the Tennis Masters Cup. The organisers had built a stage overhanging the Huangpu River, which flows through the city. The players, escorted by a film crew, were driven to that location on The Bund. Thousands of police officers shut down all the ramps leading to the area, but there was a problem: Marat Safin was late and the ceremony was being filmed for live TV.

“He needed to get in the van with the players to go to the stage and they had the Chinese jackets on and everything,” Smith said. “Three minutes is a lifetime when you’re shutting down an entire city artery. Finally… we found Marat, put him in a car [and] the highway was still shut down.”

Andre Agassi

The world’s best tennis players — including World No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, former World No. 1 Andre Agassi and rising star Roger Federer — wore colourful Tang jackets as they posed with Pudong and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the background. It’s an iconic picture that still resonates today.

One of the biggest operational hurdles for the first edition of the tournament in Shanghai was that there was only one existing stadium downtown, which needed a significant renovation. Former long-time Tennis Masters Cup Tournament Director and ATP Chairman Brad Drewett was taken through the city to inspect stadiums with the Shanghai Sports Commission and Smith. Drewett often recounted the story that when they were shown the recently built exhibition halls, he told the Shanghai Sports Commission the ceilings were too low. They replied that would not be a problem and ensured that the one hall used for the Tennis Masters Cup 2002 was significantly taller than all the other halls. After that meeting, officials connected Smith with a Chicago-based architect, who said: “I don’t know who you are, but I’m supposed to do whatever you want.”

The Shanghai New International Expo Center became the venue for the 2002 Tennis Masters Cup. Hewitt would beat Juan Carlos Ferrero in a thrilling five-set final after three hours and 51 minutes in front of nearly 10,000 fans.

“The atmosphere in that arena was probably the best I’d ever seen for a tennis event because it was intimate, the sound was great and the playing conditions with the singles court looked fantastic on TV,” Smith said.

Tennis Masters Cup 

Shanghai had only bid to hold the event for one year, but the government immediately knew it wanted to bring the tournament back.

“It was a proud moment both for tennis and the Shanghai Organising Committee,” Smith said. “The government pressed the button and said, ‘Let’s build a new tennis centre. We don’t want to just have this. We want to have tennis at the highest level forever.’”

That led to the construction of the iconic Qizhong Stadium, with its Magnolia flower-shaped roof featuring eight petals. Eight is a lucky number in China, and the theme continued with eight singles players, eight doubles teams and eighth private locker rooms for the players. In 2004, Federer flew to Shanghai to open the stadium.

“He did it because he saw China as the future for him as well. He is as beloved as any foreign athlete in China. The guy has been amazing,” Smith said. “He made that decision on his own that China was a place that he wanted to better-known and market himself, and it’s been a very mutually beneficial relationship over the years.”

Qizhong Stadium

It was fitting that when the Tennis Masters Cup returned to Shanghai in 2005, Federer was enjoying the best season of his career. He reached the championship match with an 81-3 record for the year. The Swiss crushed Gaston Gaudio 6-0, 6-0 in the semi-finals and appeared primed to win a 25th consecutive final and match John McEnroe’s historic 82-3 tally from 1984.

In round robin play, Federer had defeated World No. 12 David Nalbandian in three sets. He won two tie-breaks to take a commanding lead against the Argentine in the championship match, inching closer to a third consecutive Tennis Masters Cup crown. But Nalbandian pulled off a memorable comeback to triumph in a fifth-set tie-break for the biggest victory of his career.

“I joked during the trophy ceremony, ‘Roger, don’t worry, it’s not your last final. You’re going to win a lot of tournaments, so let me keep this one,'” Nalbandian recalled.

Federer did not let the title slip through his fingers in 2006. After eliminating rival Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals, he only lost seven games against big-hitting American James Blake in the championship match.

“There’s nothing I could have done. He played too good,” Blake said. “I’ve probably run out of adjectives to describe him on the court, to talk about his excellence. He’s just unbelievable. Steps it up even more in finals. I definitely think I could have played a little better. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t know if it would have mattered today.”

Roger Federer

Federer triumphed once again the following year, dismissing Nadal in the last four for the second consecutive season. The Swiss dominated David Ferrer for the trophy. But in 2008, he failed to reach the semi-finals at the event for the first time in his seventh appearance. That allowed Novak Djokovic to break through and claim his first of five triumphs at the tournament in its final year in Shanghai.

Part of the agreement between the organisers and the ATP allowed for the organisers to purchase an ATP Masters 1000 license following the departure of the season finale. Since 2009, the city has hosted the Rolex Shanghai Masters.

But it was the year-end championships that proved the viability of the market not just for tennis, but for professional international sports. Jonas Bjorkman won the 2006 Tennis Masters Cup doubles title alongside Max Mirnyi, and competed at the Shanghai event from 2005-08. The Swede remembers watching the culture grow over the years.

“It is very unique because it is one of the few places where you have fans queuing at the hotel for hours just to get those selfies or autographs and then they will be queuing for hours on site. If they missed a few players [at the hotel], they would try to catch them there,” Bjorkman said. “It was a very different atmosphere compared to other [Nitto ATP] Finals [locations]… Towards the end you could really see how everyone started to understand tennis more and got into it more. It was a great experience to be there playing for many years.”

Novak Djokovic

The love of the fans became apparent, and it still resonates today. Whenever the ATP Tour visits China, fans always have gifts prepared for many players in the draw. Tennis players are rock stars in China. Djokovic was blown away by their support after he lifted the trophy in 2008.

“There are so many letters and so many presents and souvenirs that I got from Chinese fans,” Djokovic said. “I haven’t experienced that ever in my career. Kids, as well as adults, waiting for me for 20, 30 hours, overnight. I mean, this just shows how much respect and appreciation they have for you as an individual.”

There isn’t currently a Chinese man inside the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings. But the Tennis Masters Cup’s five years in Shanghai brought about an explosion of tennis to China. The 2019 ITF Global Tennis Report states that 22.5 per cent of tennis players in the world are located in China.

“It’s remarkable that this has led the way for this domestic shift for tennis versus ping pong, badminton, or other sports,” Smith said. “Tennis is a very popular sport in China.”

Agassi made his final Tennis Masters Cup appearance in 2005. Although the American only completed one match due to an ankle injury, the American saw the importance of what having the event in Shanghai could mean for the future.

“This is not just an important tournament,” Agassi said. “It’s an important area of the world, and one that I think the game can benefit a lot from.”

The Brad Drewett Trophy
In 2013, the spectacular trophy presented each year to the Nitto ATP Finals champion was renamed The Brad Drewett Trophy, in honour of the former ATP Executive Chairman and President, who passed away in May of that year after a battle with Motor Neurone Disease. The Australian, who won two ATP Tour titles and reached World No. 34, served as Tournament Director of the tournament from 2001-2011.

“Brad was unique and had very good perspective from all sides of the tennis world,” said former Nitto ATP Finals Tournament Director Andre Silva. “He had a vision and believed in the event. He believed it was one of the greatest events on the tennis calendar and he worked very hard to grow its legacy.”

Brad Drewett

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Medvedev v Djokovic: A Tale Of Two Return Strategies

  • Posted: Nov 19, 2020

Daniil Medvedev’s 6-3, 6-3 win against Novak Djokovic on Wednesday evening at the Nitto ATP Finals came down to a tale of two return strategies.

According to the ATP Infosys Second Screen, Djokovic returned from much closer to — and sometimes inside — the baseline than the Russian, a decision that proved costly for the Serbian. Medvedev put far more returns in play, helping him clinch the top spot in Group Tokyo 1970. 

View The ATP Infosys Second Screen

Djokovic’s low returns-in-play percentage put a lot of pressure on him in rallies, forcing him to win many of those points against an opponent in Medvedev who refused to miss.

Looking at the ATP Infosys Second Screen, Djokovic returned Medvedev’s first serves from an average of 1.8 metres behind the baseline, giving him little time to react to the Russian’s pinpoint deliveries. He only put 50 per cent of his first-serve returns in play and won 21 per cent of points behind Medvedev’s first delivery.

Djokovic First-Serve Return Position:

Djokovic First-Serve Return

The World No. 1 was aggressive with his return position on second serves, taking them from an average of 0.4 metres inside the baseline. The furthest back Djokovic returned a second serve from was right on the baseline. The Serbian only made 59 per cent of his returns behind the Russian’s second delivery and won 39 per cent of his second-serve return points.

Djokovic Second-Serve Return Position:

Djokovic Second-Serve Return

“I’m definitely happy that he didn’t change [his return position], but not sure that if he would [have] changed it [that] it would [have been] better for him,” Medvedev said. “When you’re in the tennis match, it’s tough sometimes to change something, because that’s something he has done all his life. That’s something he’s good at.
So imagine he would go back [deeper in the court to return] and then lose the match, then he would be doubting in his head — I say [that] from my point of view — that maybe he should have stayed closer and maybe he would have had chances.

“It’s always a game of decisions, tennis, and we will never know if it was a good one from him or not.”

Medvedev chose to return from much farther behind the baseline, and he put far more returns in play. The Russian put 68 per cent of his first-serve returns inside the lines while returning from an average of five metres behind the baseline.

Medvedev First-Serve Return Position

Medvedev First-Serve Return

The three-time ATP Masters 1000 champion hit his second-serve returns from an average of 3.8 metres behind the baseline and won 57 per cent of those points.

Medvedev Second-Serve Return Position:

Medvedev Second-Serve Return

According to Hawkeye, Medvedev hit 40 per cent of his shots in the match from two metres or more behind the baseline, but his safe tactics paid dividends. The Russian’s wall-like game plan frustrated the World No. 1, who fell to 1-1 in Group Tokyo 1970 play.

Medvedev won all three rally lengths according to Match Insights powered by Infosys NIA. About half of the match’s points lasted between zero and four shots, making the return — and from where the players hit it — even more important.

Rally Length

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Djokovic: I Couldn’t Find ‘Additional Shots’

  • Posted: Nov 19, 2020

After Daniil Medvedev smacked a forehand winner on match point to take down the World No. 1, 6-3, 6-3 in just 81 minutes, he tapped a ball toward the backstop, and nonchalantly approached the net, where Novak Djokovic gave him a fist bump. The Russian didn’t pump his fists, raise his arms in the air or even smile. But Novak did, extending a warm salute to his young rival, who seemingly beat him at his own aggressive baseline game and has now prevailed against him in three of their past four ATP Head2Head encounters.

It was far from his best performance, but Nole, as he’s affectionately called in the Balkans, could still afford to smile because the Nitto ATP Finals is the only tournament of the year where you can lose and still win. The 17-time major champion still has his eyes on the prize: a record-tying sixth title overall and fifth at The O2.

The Serb was upbeat in the press conference, given the circumstances. But when a reporter noted that it seemed like he was breathing heavily at times during the match, he acknowledged that he went through a spell of 15 to 20 minutes during the match where he didn’t feel well.


“Well, I was, to be honest [not feeling well] a little bit, especially towards the end of the first set, beginning of the second,” said Djokovic, 33. “I kind of regrouped and felt better… towards the end of the match. But, yeah, just unfortunate 15, 20 minutes for me that resulted with seven games in a row lost… I made some unforced errors. I dropped the level of [my] game and fitness just in general. I struggled to… find the right rhythm for 15 minutes or so…You know, against a player like Medvedev, the match is done.”

Djokovic also credited his opponent for a match well played.

“I cannot allow these things to happen when you’re playing one of the top players of the world,” he said. “He was just better, no question about it… He’s serving tremendously well, moving great. [He didn’t] give me too many unforced errors and free points. Yeah, I mean, just not a great match from my side. I thought I could have and should have done better, but credit to him for playing on a high level.”

The Serb said that Medvedev’s first serve, strong backhand and fluid movement caused problems for him all match.

“He’s a tall guy and he moves well, he rarely misses backhands, and he’s just a smart player, very smart player,” he said. “[He] knows how to make you run, make you play, and he always asks additional shots from the back of the court… from his opponent. If you start making unforced errors and maybe if you’re not playing at your best, he uses it. You know, he was a better player. [He] deserved to win, no doubt about it.”

The defeat dropped Djokovic’s still-exceptional record to 40-4 on the season. He was an uncharacteristic minus nine in winners (13) versus unforced errors (22) in the match, compared to Medvedev’s plus nine (17/8). Djokovic served five double faults and the trim Russian belted 10 aces. Novak’s next opponent in the tournament’s round-robin phase is Alexander Zverev, who is also 1-1 in the group after beating Diego Schwartzman this afternoon. It’ll be a winner-moves-on, loser-goes-home match that could be a classic.

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