The 2019 ATP Finals are just around the corner, and this will be the 11th consecutive year that London’s O2 Arena will be the venue.
Since 2003, when the tournament was held in Houston, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have dominated the honor roll. The Swiss has triumphed on six occasions and the Serbian will be looking to match that tally this year, having lifted the trophy five times.
However, 2017 and 2018 saw surprisingly champions emerge. Grigor Dimitrov defeated David Goffin in the final two years ago and Alexander Zverev triumphed over Djokovic in straight sets last time. This shows that it is possible for an unfancied player to go all the way in this event.
The ATP Finals may have changed its name on four occasions but its format has remained constant since 1986.
The eight qualifiers have been drawn into two groups of four. The players will then play the other members of their group in a regular best-of-three format. The top two from each group will then progress to the knockout rounds of the semifinals and final. This year the groups are named after two legends of the game: Andre Agassi and Bjorn Borg.
Group Agassi will see a rematch from the US Open final between Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev. Stefanos Tsitsipas will see his own “interesting” rivalry with the Russian resumed and the group is rounded off with the German 2018 ATP Finals Champion Alexander Zverev.
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are the high seeds in Group Borg. They will face each other for the 49th time, and they will also play against the Austrian Dominic Thiem and the Italian Matteo Berrettini.
What do the stats tell us?
Unsurprisingly as the players are the best eight currently in the world, all of the players enter this tournament in good form. Federer, Djokovic, and Rafael Nadal have all won nine of their previous ten matches. Though on deeper inspection, Nadal has only played three tour matches since his US Open triumph and Federer was barely challenged last time out at home in Basel.
Even amongst the younger players form looks promising. Only Alexander Zverev has won less than 70% of his last ten matches. Daniil Medvedev had made the final in six consecutive ATP tournaments until a surprising defeat last time out against Jeremy Chardy in Paris. Dominic Thiem has also won two tournaments since the US Open, on hard courts in Beijing and then indoors at home in Vienna. Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini have also managed to retain a high level of consistency recently.
Form in indoor conditions
The indoor conditions in London usually produce tennis consistent with most of the other indoor tournaments in the calendar. Assessing the players’ indoor career stats it is Federer and Djokovic that hold the most impressive figures. This is no doubt helped by their excellent records in this tournament.
Daniil Medvedev is the man who actually has the best return stats indoors, breaking his opponents almost 30% of the time so far in his career. Thiem and Berrettini conversely have struggled to break but have very impressive serve stats, albeit Berrettini can only be judged on a small sample of 17 matches indoors.
Success in the ATP Finals
As mentioned above it is Federer and Djokovic who are streets ahead of the rest in terms of their win/loss record at the tour finals. Federer has won almost 80% of his matches in this tournament, though this has reduced somewhat in recent years. Djokovic keeps pace alongside the Swiss but, famously, Nadal has never won at the tour finals and, in fact, has only won 55% of all his matches at the tournament.
Three men are on ATP Finals debut here, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini. All three have made discernably big strides this season and all of them have risen to big occasions at some point in 2019. As a result, it would be a surprise to see them struggle to cope with the size of this event and shrink in the limelight.
Records versus the Top 10
Where all of the younger players do suffer in comparison to the likes of Nadal, Djokovic and Federer is their records against the fellow elite. Where the big three carry a winning career record over 60% against fellow top 10 players, the other five players all have a losing record of around 40%. However, Thiem, Medvedev and Berrettini have made strides to rebalance that in 2019 with all three establishing a 50% or above record.
Who will win Group Agassi?
There are doubts surrounding the fitness of the top seed Rafael Nadal heading into the group stage. The Spaniard has had a muscle scan and has found a small strain in an abdominal muscle. Despite this the US Open and Roland-Garros champion heads to London hoping to win his first ATP Finals title.
Judging by Nadal’s Twitter activity it would appear that the Spaniard is trying to readjust expectations amongst his fan base. The fact that he is only “serving slowly” a few days before the tournament can’t be ideal preparation. If the US Open champ was at full fitness then he would qualify from Group Agassi comfortably, but that surely isn’t the case.
Alexander Zverev seems to be at a bit of a loss with his tennis at the moment, whilst Tsitsipas cannot seem to get on terms with Medvedev when they play each other. If it is possible to disregard the Russian’s previous match against Chardy then he is the form man.
Expect Nadal and Medvedev to progress from this group if Nadal is able to complete his matches at full fitness. As things stand though Medvedev may take the opportunity to exact revenge for his US Open defeat and top the group. If Nadal is unable to compete fully then Tsitsipas could also qualify from this group on his ATP Finals debut.
Prediction: 1st Medvedev, 2nd Tsitsipas
Who will win Group Borg?
This will be a difficult task for Matteo Berrettini. The Italian only knew that he had qualified on Friday after Gael Monfils was defeated by Denis Shapovalov. Now the US Open semifinalist has to measure himself up against Djokovic, Federer, and Dominic Thiem.
The Austrian has a very useful winning record over Federer, with victories on Thiem’s favoured clay surface, but also on hard courts. Thiem’s late-season form on the faster surfaces has been impressive and it seems as though he has stepped up a level on this form.
The man to beat in the Bjorn Borg group though is undoubtedly Novak Djokovic. He enters the tournament on supreme form with back-to-back titles. The Serbian hasn’t lost to Federer since 2015, although that was at this event. He also has a winning record against Thiem.
Expect Djokovic to top the group, and Dominic Thiem could well continue his good recent form to grab the second qualification spot.
Prediction: 1st Djokovic, 2nd Thiem
Who wins the ATP Finals 2019?
It will, of course, be very difficult to beat Novak Djokovic. The Serbian has the elite recent form with consecutive Masters wins, he has won in London on five occasions and has the potential to reach the year-end #1 ranking if results go his way.
However, Djokovic has lost two of the last three finals. Federer hasn’t made the final since 2015, and the Swiss maestro hasn’t won this title since 2011. Nadal has never won it and it would appear 2019 may pass him by again.
It may be down to the less experienced players to spring another surprise. Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem go about their tennis in very different ways but each of them seem to be carrying the confidence to be able to go on and win another big title in their excellent seasons.
There may well be another surprise winner of the ATP Finals, but it’s very difficult to look past Djokovic equalling Federer’s record of six ATP Finals wins.