After the first round of matches at the ATP Tour Finals, the round robin stage is finely poised. With two games each before the semi-finals, Mats Wilander has analysed the players’ chances of progression. Read on to find out more.
Before we get into analysing the next round of matchups, it’s important to note that it’s not easy to play a round robin as a tennis player. These guys will be so used to a format of “lose and you’re out” that they need to adapt and be able to pick themselves up after a loss.
While the groups begin to take shape, the beauty of the ATP Tour Finals is that anyone has a chance right up until the end of the last game. One thing’s for sure; this is the last event of the year so the players will be putting it all on the line until the very end.
Kevin Anderson vs. Kei Nishikori
The implications of this match are massive. Everything is still all to play for in the tournament but the winner of this match has a huge chance to progress from the more evenly matched group of the two.
If the winner gets the job done in two sets then they are pretty much there as they wouldn’t have lost a set. As important as the match is, even the loser still has a decent chance of making it out of the group; it’s just that the pressure will really be on in their last game.
In terms of a style matchup, these are two baseliners but very different baseliners at that. Kevin Anderson has a much bigger serve - he’s definitely in the top five servers in the world while Nishikori probably isn’t even in the top 20.
What Nishikori does have is a much stronger all-round game from the base line. He’s so good at keeping the ball in play, he moves much better and will be able to absorb Anderson’s power. The slower court will also play into the hands of Nishikori’s counter-puncher style (providing he can keep the ball in play off of Anderson’s serve).
Roger Federer vs. Dominic ThiemWhile a lot of credit has to be given to the way Kei Nishikori played against Roger Federer, it should also be said that the 20-time Grand Slam winner really disappointed out on the court. He admitted himself that he was nervous before the game, his play felt very forced andfor one reason or another it just didn’t click.
Thankfully for Federer (and his fans), he’s been given another chance thanks to the format of the ATP Tour Finals. Dominic Thiem isn’t the strongest on indoor courts and that will obviously lay into Federer’s hands
Federer, as would be expected, will be comfortable holding. The only real danger from Thiem comes from the fact that he is so fast and physical. This game could go one of two ways, Federer could turn up and try to blow Thiem away (he tried that against Nishikori and kept missing) or he will play a bit safer and Thiem could drag him into a physical battle (then it becomes a lot more difficult to predict).
This looks like it could be the first season (apart from his blip five or six years ago) where Federer hasn’t lived up to the expectation - despite everyone knowing how old he is and how difficult it must be, he still carries a big weight of expectation from everyone involved in tennis.
One thing Federer needs to do is make sure he isn’t playing for history or records, once you start seeing it as just a win or a loss you become more reactive and nervous. I sincerely hope this isn’t the point where Federer could feel the fact that the clock is ticking and I think the result of this match (and more importantly his performance) will give us a good indication of that.
Marin Cilic vs. John Isner
Although we know it’s rarely over at the ATP Tour Finals until the last round robin matches are done, this is pretty much a “lose and you’re out” scenario for Marin Cilic and John Iser. Both have lost their opening match and a win here would give them one last shot at qualifying for the semi-finals.
It’s hard to put your finger on exactly what is going wrong for Cilic. He’s just seems to be struggling when it gets to the big moments. The Croat looks to have everything under control until in his matches but when it gets to those important points, only then does he throw it away with unforced errors and silly mistakes.
John Isner will be coming into this match with plenty of confidence - certainly a lot more than his opponent. The American might have lost to Novak Djokovic but no one would have expected much else (it’s hard to see anyone from this group troubling the World No. 1).
Isner has a much bigger serve and will likely get a lot more free points off of his serve. Cilic is also impressive when s serving and because of that, we’ll probably see a couple of tie breakers - given Cilic’s recent showing in the big moments, there’ll be plenty of doubt hanging over his head on those important points.
We’ve been waiting a while for the Cilic turnaround and it just hasn’t happened over the second half of this year. This really is his last shot to pick himself up and head into 2019 with some confidence intact. If Isner wins comfortably in this one, I’d be really concerned about what we’ll see from Cilic next season.
Alexander Zverev vs. Novak Djokovic
I can’t imagine there were many out there who thought Novak Djokovic would do anything but dominate his opening match against John Isner. We had to wait a while but the World No. 1 really is back to his best and is looking unstoppable at times. The question is; how much better can he get?
Similarly to Isner, it’s hard to see how Alexander Zverev will trouble Djokovic. He has a minor edge based on the strength of his serve but even then Djokovic is the best returner in the game.
These guys both do their best work from the baseline and the key difference is how early Djokovic can take the ball. The young German has more power but he’s striking the ball from much further back, whereas Djokovic is stepping into the ball and taking it early - the way Zverev plays also gives him longer to assess the bounce of the ball and play the best possible shot.
Nothing in this game is certain but you have to say, Djokovic’s tournament will only really get going once we reach the semi-finals. If we look at how everyone else is playing, I have to say this looks like Djokovic’s tournament to lose, it seems like it hangs on whether he ends up beating himself and when you consider he hasn’t played a bad match in over six months, there’s very little chance of that happening.