Leading lights learn their fate in ATP Finals draw

 - Alex Sharp

The draw has been made for the season finale, which begins on Sunday

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic joking at practice during the Rolex Paris Masters 2019©Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

The world’s finest players from the men’s ranks are landing in London, hoping to cap their 2019 campaign in style at the ATP Finals.

The unique round robin format to the action at the 02 Arena adds another intriguing facet to the prestigious event and the group match-ups certainly provide the platform for a fascinating crescendo to the season.

“It’s the best 8 guys on tour here“

In ‘Group Andre Agassi’ world No.1 Rafael Nadal is joined by Next Gen triumvirate Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and defending champion Alexander Zverev.

Over to ‘Group Bjorn Borg’ and Novak Djokovic will hope to reclaim top spot in the rankings, but will have to navigate past Roger Federer, Dominic Thiem and Matteo Berrettini.

“It’s very interesting, I’ll do everything I can to win as many matches as possible,” said Zverev at the draw in London. “It’s the best 8 guys on tour here... there are no easy matches.

“It feels great to be back. It’s obviously been a difficult year, but I still made it here. I’m very happy how the end of the season went and I have unbelievable memories from last year.

“It was the biggest title of my career so far, I’m happy to play in this one of a kind atmosphere again. It’s special to be here.”

A devastating display from Zverev last November saw the German oust Federer and then Djokovic to take home the title. He’s avoided those contests in the group stages, however the world No.7 opens his account against Nadal on Monday night.

©Philippe Montigny/FFT

Nadal back at the summit

Roland-Garros champion Nadal, finalist at the ATP Finals in 2010 and 2013, was forced to withdraw from the Rolex Paris Masters prior to the semi-finals with an abdominal injury.

The newly reinstated world No.1, back at the summit of men’s tennis for the eighth time and 197th week at the pinnacle, will travel to London hoping to practice on Friday and Saturday in order to feature in the action next week.

Nadal has won all five previous encounters against Zverev and both matches against debutant Medvedev, who is the leader of the ATP Tour with 59 wins in 2019.

The US Open final should provide Medvedev all the motivation he needs to gain revenge on Nadal, their instant-classic five-set thriller was one of the matches of the season.

Nadal also possesses a 4-1 head-to-head record over another debutant Tsitsipas, but the Greek did manage to inflict defeat on the ‘King of Clay’ at the Madrid Masters.

Depending on Nadal’s fitness, Rolex Paris Masters champion Djokovic will be targeting an immediate return to the top of the rankings. It’s a simple equation that if Djokovic takes home the title he will be crowned year-end No.1, but only if Nadal fails to reach the last four.

Novak Djokovic wawing to the crowd in front of the ball kids at the Rolex Paris Masters 2019©Philippe Montigny/FFT

Djokovic back in London

Five-time champion (2008, 2012-15) Djokovic also has a daunting gauntlet to run at the O2 Arena.

The Serbian opens the singles event on Sunday afternoon to take on Matteo Berrettini, who clinched the final spot to become the first Italian player to qualify for the singles draw since Corrado Barazzutti back in 1978.

That will be their first competitive meeting, which is in stark contrast to Djokovic’s 48 instalments against world No.3 Federer (26-22 in the Serbian’s favour).

Back in London, back facing Djokovic, will recall painful memories for Federer after relinquishing two matches points en route to defeat in the Wimbledon final in July.

The Swiss can call upon an astonishing ATP Finals record. Leading the way with a record six titles, Federer has qualified for a 17th year. The 38-year-old will hope to build on an impressive title-winning week on home soil in Basel to be hailed ATP Finals champion for the first time since 2011.

Dominic Thiem at the Rolex Paris Masters 2019©Philippe Montigny/FFT

One step further?

Now to add Dominic Thiem into the mix in ‘Group Bjorn Borg.’ The Austrian denied Djokovic by going the distance in the Roland-Garros semi-finals. On top of that, Thiem has defeated Federer in both of their 2019 clashes, including the Indian Wells silverware showdown.

Over to the doubles and Rolex Paris Masters champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut will hope to go one step further this year.

Rewind to last November and the French duo narrowly lost out in the final against Mike Bryan with Jack Sock.

Herbert/Mahut are joined in ‘Group Max Mirnyi’ by Wimbledon and US Open champions Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah. Kevin Krawietz/Andreas Mies and Jean-Julien Rojer/Horia Tecau complete the quartet.

The ‘Group Jonas Bjorkman’ is also compiled of a quality line-up with Lukasz Kubot/Marcelo Melo, Raven Klaasen/Michael Venus, Rajeev Ram/Joe Salisbury and Ivan Dodig/ Filip Polasek booking their tickets to London.