Djokovic and Medvedev lead Finals title charge in Turin

 - Alex Sharp

The curtain is about to come down on the men’s season, but first there is the prestigious ATP Finals at its new home in Italy.

Novak Djokovic hitting a forehand during practice in Turin for the 2021 ATP finals© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

For 11 years the ATP season culminated with a blockbuster week in London at the O2 Arena. The ‘Big Four’ dominated just a few miles down the road from Wimbledon, but now the ATP Finals has a fresh location.

The eight best players of the 2021 campaign have qualified for the box office battles at the Pala Alpitour in Turin, Italy.

Revitalised Djokovic primed for final duels

His history-chasing rivals of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal might be absent, but world No.1 Djokovic arrives in Italy honing in on more all-time accolades.

Last week, the Serbian’s sizzling return to action resulted in lifting the magnificent Rolex Paris Masters trophy in Bercy, clinching the year-end No.1 ranking for a record-breaking seventh time.

Over to Italy and the Roland-Garros champion can match Federer’s record six ATP Finals crowns.

Novak Djokovic relaxed during practice in Turin for the 2021 ATP Finals© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

The top seed is pitched in the same ‘green’ group as 2019 champion Stefanos Tsitsipas (with a tour-leading 55 wins this season), Russian powerhouse Andrey Rublev and debutant Casper Ruud.

Remember, Djokovic went 27-1 in Grand Slams in 2021, going agonisingly close to the first men’s calendar Grand Slam since 1969. It took time to recharge, to reset, but Bercy proved the 34-year-old is poised for a final push.

“I do feel fresher, because I haven’t played as much as in previous years, in terms of tournaments,” said Djokovic, ahead of his first match facing world No.8 Ruud on Monday.

“I did have a lot of exhausting events, particularly in the Grand Slams, not just physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

Novak Djokovic at practice ahead of the 2021 ATP Finals in Turin© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“This year has been unlike any other than I have had so far, because of the pressure of the achievement and the historical achievement. It did take a lot out of me. I felt like I needed a break in order to rejuvenate and get ready for the end of the season.

“I started well with the Paris win and I hope to do well in Turin. Sometimes you don’t have a lot of fuel in the tank, but you have to play five top matches to win this title, it requires a lot of energy.”

The Serbian thrives in this event. Looking at the field, Djokovic is strolling into his 14th appearance, boosted by five titles. In contrast, the other seven players competing have just 11 appearances between them and three titles as a collective.

Medvedev on the defence

Practice partners this week, but rivals next week, defending champion Daniil Medvedev will have his say.

The 25-year-old emphatically halted Djokovic’s Grand Slam dream in the US Open final and spearheads the ‘red’ group alongside Olympic gold medallist Alexander Zverev, home charge Matteo Berrettini and another debutant, Hubert Hurkacz.

The Russian will hope to replicate his 2020 heroics. After scooping the Rolex Paris Masters, he went 5-0 in London, including a gobsmacking hat-trick over the world’s Top 3 (Djokovic, Nadal and Dominic Thiem).

Such a run built the perfect platform for his major move in 2021. 

“Tennis is so much about ups and downs, gaining of confidence. Coming into Paris last year I felt completely out of shape, low on confidence and not sure what I could achieve in the last two tournaments of the year,” reflected the world No.2, beginning his title quest against Hurkacz on Sunday afternoon.

“I found my tennis and confidence to win both of them, and of course I beat Novak, Rafa and Dominic at the Finals. Three really tough match ups.

“It was amazing, and that gave me confidence in Australia. After you re-watch matches on YouTube, your confidence is back. You think, ‘I’m still able to do it.’”

Home comforts settle Matteo

The first night session in Turin will witness Italian talisman Berrettini tackle 2018 champion Zverev, in front of what promises to be a raucous crowd.

“It means a lot. I think it’s one of the best events that we have on Tour and to have the chance to have it in my home country is something unbelievable,” said Wimbledon finalist Berrettini.

“At the beginning of the year, it obviously was a big goal, but it was too soon to even think about it. And then match by match, I think I earned it and I’m really happy to be here.”