The round-robin format of the ATP Nitto Finals has its flaws, but sometimes it ends up working just like the usual knockout system. On Thursday, Roger Federer will take on Novak Djokovic in the last group match. As both men lost to Dominic Thiem and defeated Matteo Berrettini, only the winner of this match will advance to the semifinals.
Novak Djokovic is still fighting for the year-end no.1 ranking against Rafael Nadal. A loss to Federer would leave the Serbian drawing dead in this race. In case Djokovic advances, there is still a chance for a final or semifinal match against the Spaniard that would decide who finishes the year at the top. The last time a situation like that happened, Andy Murray took down Djokovic in the championship match of the ATP Finals back in 2016, claiming the no.1 ranking.
Federer vs Djokovic: Battle of the titans
The Serbian will come into this Thursday clash as the heavy favorite. Federer last beat Djokovic in November 2015, in the round-robin stage of this very tournament. Djokovic ended up winning that event after a Federer rematch in the final and winning the next four meetings between them, including the dramatic Wimbledon final.
He has also looked much better than the Swiss great so far this week. Djokovic took a set off Dominic Thiem and absolutely demolished Matteo Berrettini, whereas Federer has been playing a little flat. The Swiss hasn’t played his rival since the Wimbledon heartbreak and his mental state will be a little suspect. The speedy surface at the O2 arena should give Federer a decent chance though. In these conditions, if the Swiss has a good serving day he might not need to win many baseline rallies against Djokovic.
It will be another legendary clash between attack and defense. The best retriever in the game will take on the icon of effortless first-strike tennis. Only one can survive and advance to the semifinals.
Main Photo from Getty.