Draw divides the stars as ATP Finals anticipation builds

 - Alex Sharp

The 50th anniversary of the men’s season finale begins at the O2 Arena in London this Sunday with some fascinating match ups

Rafael Nadal during the Rolex Paris Masters 2020©Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Every season the ATP calendar curtails with the best eight men summoning their last strikes to prove their worth at the very top of the tennis roster.

The ATP Finals has had a glittering history since its inception in 1970 and the 50th anniversary edition promises to be another enthralling instalment.

The draw for the two round-robin groups occurred on Thursday as the world’s elite players learned their fate ahead of the action for the final time at the O2 Arena from 15th-22nd November. East London is the location for the 12th successive season, before the ATP Finals packs up to a new home in Turin in 2021.

Here is how the groups look for the finale in London.

A tricky trio

‘Group Tokyo 1970’ is headlined by world No.1 Novak Djokovic. The Serbian, 39-3 in matches this season, will be targeting a record-tying sixth ATP Finals crown to join Roger Federer, having triumphed in 2008, 2012-2015.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion has been presented with a tricky trio to navigate past for a semi-final ticket.

Recent Rolex Paris Masters champion Daniil Medvedev (4-2 head-to-head for Djokovic), 2018 ATP Finals winner Alexander Zverev (3-2 in Djokovic’s favour) and then debutant Diego Schwartzman (5-0 record to the world No.1) complete the group quartet.

All three players have pushed the top seed. In his latest match against Medvedev, Djokovic was hauled into three pulsating sets at the ATP Cup in January.

Zverev will relish their duel, having wrapped up the 2018 title at the O2 Arena with a 6-4, 6-3 scoreline over Djokovic. The US Open finalist’s slingshot serving and lasered strokes from that fine week two years ago will be required this time out

Rafael Nadal and Diego Schwartzman taking a picture together during the Rolex Paris MAsters 2020©Cédric Lecocq/FFT

A crucial clash

Schwartzman, semi-finalist at Roland-Garros a month ago, is Djokovic’s opening quest on Monday afternoon. Rewind to the Rome Masters trophy showdown and the Argentine couldn’t quite conjure up a persistent challenge with 7-5, 6-3 posted in the Masters 1000 history books.

Schwartzman, breaking into the Top 10 following his Roland-Garros endeavours, doesn’t lead any of his round-robin head-to-heads, but will pounce if he’s underestimated. The 28-year-old is the main man in the draw without any pressure or outside expectations.

Expect the free-hitting world No.9 to be in contention, should he apply the tennis which outgunned Nadal in Rome and transferred to Roland-Garros.

Medvedev and Zverev’s Rolex Paris Masters final repeat will be a crucial clash in Group Tokyo 1970. Their battle in Bercy was a gruelling encounter, with the Russian eventually grinding down Zverev’s resolve. Medvedev aims to make his opponents go “crazy” and if his resurgence continues, the 24-year-old will test any opponent’s patience.

Daniil Medvedev fist pumping during the final of the Rolex Paris Masters 2020©Philippe Montigny/FFT

Nadal as the leading light

Over to ‘Group London 2020’ and Roland-Garros champion Rafael Nadal is the leading light, hoping to finally secure an ATP Finals in his trophy cabinet.

The world No.2, replenished after a semi-finals showing at the Paris Masters, has been a finalist twice (2010, 2013) and just like Djokovic has a high quality triumvirate to outmanoeuvre.

Nadal, earning a spot at the ATP Finals every season since 2005, is joined by Dominic Thiem (9-5 for Nadal), Stefanos Tsitsipas (5-1 to the Spaniard) and debutant Andrey Rublev (1-0 in Nadal’s favour.)

The curtain raiser

Group London 2020 will provide the curtain raiser on Sunday afternoon, with a repeat of last year’s spectacular final taking centre stage.

Last November Tsitsipas prevailed in a third set tie-break in an exhibition of all-court tennis with Thiem. Since then the Austrian lifted a first major at the US Open and must be the favourite to join Nadal in the semi-finals.

However, as reigning champion, Tsitsipas will obviously feel he has a bolstered shot at the semi-finals by replicating his brave and forward-thinking tennis from 2019 in east London.

Andrey Rublev during the Rolex Paris Masters 2020©Philippe Montigny/FFT

A close examination

Rublev, like Schwartzman, takes his ATP Finals bow next week and opens against Nadal on Monday night.  What a way to open your account, to portray to the pack why you’ve had such a sensational 2020.

The Russian has a tour-leading 40 match wins and five trophies as a result of a stellar campaign. His cannonball shots, unrivalled consistency and remarkable resilience will certainly give Nadal a close examination of his title credentials.

Everywhere you look the match ups are blockbuster. Let’s hope these world leading quartets can produce their year-round brilliance for one last show at the O2 Arena.