The 50th edition of the Nitto ATP Finals culminates another brilliant tennis year which featured breathtaking tennis, new records, and emergence of future stars. Since the inaugural ATP Finals took place in Tokyo in 1970, the season-ending event has moved around to some of the biggest cities in the world, including the four cities that play host to the four Grand Slams: Paris (1971), Melbourne (1974), New York (1977 – 1989), and since 2009, London.
Eight of tennis’ elite superstars will once again compete in the most prestigious tennis tournament outside the four Grand Slams and there will no shortage of quality as early as Day 1 when two of the gladiators in the men’s game grace us with their presence.
Here are our thoughts on who will win their opening round robin matches.
Nitto ATP Finals Day 1 Predictions
Novak Djokovic vs Matteo Berrettini
Head-to-head: First meeting
Five-time Nitto ATP Finals champion Novak Djokovic cannot afford any slip ups in the group stages if he is to give himself the best possible chance of wrestling back the No.1 ranking. Since retiring hurt in his US Open fourth round match against Wawrinka and losing in the quarterfinals of the Shanghai Masters, the Serbian superstar relinquished his status as tennis’ top dog to nearest rival Rafael Nadal. It will be the Spaniard who holds all the cards to end the year as World No.1, but as far as permutations go and Nadal’s fitness concerns, the race will go down to the wire.
The 16-time Grand Slam winner arrives in London in immaculate form after winning the Paris Masters without dropping a set a fortnight ago. Djokovic also has a phenomenal record at the year-end championships, winning the event five-times (second only to Federer with six titles) and since the tournament moved to London a decade ago, he has won the crown more times than any player.
Djokovic’s opener in Group Bjorn Borg will be against the power-hitting debutante Matteo Berrettini. The 23-year-old who hails from the Eternal city is very much the wildcard of the group and the tournament. Berrettini was the last man to secure qualification, fighting off stiff competition from the likes of Gael Monfils, Bautista Agut and countryman Fabio Fognini.
In just his second full year on tour, Berrettini has grown from a non-descript one-note player into a legitimate Top 10 player. He captured two ATP tour titles during the first half of the 2019 season, but it was his spectacular run to the semifinals of the US Open which garnered him widespread attention. Could he inflict a costly defeat to Djokovic on Sunday?
Experience at this level is certainly on Djokovic’s side and it should be no surprise if Berrettini – who possesses a booming first serve and an explosive forehand – is on the back foot from the get go in his service games. The Serb will look to exploit major weaknesses in the Italian’s game – most notably the tendency to slice the backhand. If Djokovic brings anything close to what we saw in Paris, he should sail through at a canter.
Prediction: Djokovic in 2
Roger Federer vs Dominic Thiem
Head-to-head: Federer 2-4 Thiem
Roger Federer will make his 17th career appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals and with 6 titles under his belt, and a record 57 match wins, he remains the tournament’s most decorated player. The Swiss will be determined to avoid another losing start in the group stages for the second year in a row when he faces the counterpunching Austrian Dominic Thiem.
Thiem has a winning record against Federer after besting the 38-year-old to capture his maiden Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells. The Austrian then saved multiple match-points in their most recent match at the Madrid Masters in early May to beat the Swiss in another tightly contested encounter.
This will be a pivotal match towards getting out of the group. Djokovic will undoubtedly be the firm favorite to progress to the semifinals unscathed with Federer a close second. However, Thiem who is off the back of a career-best season has developed into an all-surface threat, winning titles on the indoor hard courts of Beijing and Vienna along with the aforementioned Indian Wells Masters. Federer is also carrying plenty of momentum having won an unprecedented 10th title in Basel and pulling out of Bercy to recharge his batteries. Thiem might have the upper hand on extended rallies, but conditions should suit Federer to keep points relatively short. Expect the six time champion to edge the dynamic Austrian.
Prediction: Federer in 2