Novak Djokovic. (Photo by Aurelien Morissard/Xinhua)
World No. 2, Novak Djokovic begins his bid for the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals title on Sunday when he faces Italian debutant, Matteo Berrettini in the opening match of the tournament.
(geo restrictions apply; funded account required or to have placed a bet in the last 24 hours to qualify)
Djokovic is looking to win the year-end Finals for a record-equaling sixth time, and for the first time since 2015. The Serbian first won the title in Shanghai in 2008, before claiming four straight titles in London between 2012 and 2015. The 32-year-old is looking to tie Roger Federer’s record of six triumphs at the tournament.
The 16-time Grand Slam champion is also attempting to finish the year at No. 1 for a sixth time, with would tie the record currently held by Pete Sampras. Only two men can finish 2019 at No. 1, with Djokovic and Rafael Nadal set to battle for the ranking over the next week in London.
The Serbian currently trails Nadal by 640 points, and will need to reach the final to have any chance of overtaking his Spanish rival. Djokovic is in Group Bjorn Borg along with Federer, Dominic Thiem and Berrettini, while Nadal spearheads the other group, with defending champion, Alexander Zverev, and first-timers, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Daniil Medvedev joining the Spaniard in Group Andre Agassi.
“…you have to start with a real intensity and quality of tennis because it’s the elite eight players of the world”, Djokovic said of the Nitto ATP Finals. “There’s no smoothing your way into the tournament, you have to be very sharp from the start.”
The world No. 2 arrives London in good form, having won the Paris Masters- the final tournament in the ATP’s regular season. It is quite ironic that he lost the No. 1 ranking to Nadal following that Paris success, but such is the way the rankings work, with the points he got for finishing second at last year’s Nitto ATP Finals all falling off at the conclusion of the ATP’s regular season.
Djokovic has five titles this season, a record he shares with Dominic Thiem. The 32-year-old added Grand Slam titles in Australia and Wimbledon to the cabinet, taking his tally to 16, while he also won Masters 1000 titles in Madrid and Paris, as well as an ATP 500 crown in Tokyo.
He is arguably the favourite to win a sixth title this week in London, and the journey begins with a meeting with Berrettini on Sunday.
ATP Finals London 2019: Latest news, tournament information, schedules and live streams for the ATP’s season-ending Finals
London qualification would have been far from Berrettini’s top objectives at the start of the year, with the Italian ranked outside the top-50 and not as prominent as some of the other members of the younger brigade, but the 23-year-old has put together a brilliant year, winning titles in Budapest and Stuttgart, and breaking into the top-ten.
Berrettini also made a final in Munich (lost to Cristian Garin), as well as marquee semi-finals in Shanghai- his first at Masters 1000 level, and of course, the US Open- by far his best Grand Slam performance till date.
Berrettini backed up that US Open semi-final with further semi-finals in Shanghai and Vienna, putting himself in excellent position in the Race to London, but it almost slipped away at the Paris Masters, where he was beaten by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in his tournament opener. Had Gael Monfils beaten Denis Shapovalov in Paris quarter final, the Frenchman, and not Berrettini, would have been in London.
In the end, Monfils was well beaten by Shapovalov, paving the way for Berrettini to earn a well-deserved spot at the Nitto ATP Finals, with the Italian becoming the first player from his country to qualify for the singles event at the year-end tournament since Corrado Barazzutti competed at the event in 1978, when it was still staged in New York.
It’s a baptism of fire for Berrettini, as he takes on five-time champion, Djokovic for the first time on Sunday.
Berrettini’s big strengths are his serve and forehand- he can blow anyone away when those two shots are firing, and they will need to be absolutely on fire if he is to have any chance of beating Djokovic on Sunday. This is a very tough match-up for the Italian, as Djokovic is like a robot designed to counter Berrettini’s strengths and magnify his weakness. The world No. 2 is one of the greatest returners to ever play the sport, and he will be jumping all over Berrettini’s serve if the Italian does not find his mark. Even more worrisome for Berrettini are Djokovic’s defence and backhand. The Serbian’s incredible ability to absorb his opponents’ best shots and get them back with interest could grind Berrettini into the ground, while his world class double-handed backhand will feast on Berrettini’s much weaker wing all day.
Except Berrettini has a phenomenal serving day, and absolutely redlines his forehand, I don’t see how he’s stopping Djokovic on Sunday.
Novak Djokovic vs Matteo Berrettini is live from London on Sunday, 10 November from 2:00pm local time/ 2:00pm GMT