A dramatic two days on the hard courts of London’s O2 Arena saw the ATP Finals take a further twist after the opening day defeat for Roger Federer.
With Group Andre Agassi kicking off with the meeting between the current world number one Rafael Nadal and last year’s ATP Finals champion, Alexander Zverev, tennis once again presented fans with a perfect prism through which to view the sport, namely each competitor’s trajectories since last year’s event.
While Rafael Nadal has fought back from injury, regained his own majesty in the game and earned the respect of every other player on the men’s tour after battling to reclaim his number one status, Zverev has, in many ways, gone backwards. Failing to build on his ATP Finals win in Grand Slam events, the young prodigy many thought would break his major duck in 2019 has done nothing of the sort, instead enduring quarrels within his own camp and struggling to make the ATP Finals in any sort of form.
However, a run of recent results have steadied the ship for Zverev and he showed that he still has what it takes to win this event by demolishing Nadal 6-2, 6-4 in straight sets, keeping himself in the running for the $2.8 million on offer to the man who can win this event without losing a match. Nadal has never won the ATP Finals, and will need to respond quickly to remain in with a chance of doing so in his second match.
Elsewhere in Group Andre Agassi, Greek sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas won through against the much-vaunted ATP Finals newbie, Russian player Daniil Medvedev. Medvedev has been in superb form of late, with his own win against Nadal another point on the graph that charts his phenomenal rise, but this battle of two of the youngest players at the finals ended with the 21-year-old Greek player emerging triumphant with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 victory.
Tsitsipas admits that the two men are unlikely to be exchanging Christmas cards over a gingerbread latte in December, tacitly stating that the win meant more to him than usual, it being the first time he has got the better of this particular adversary, one with whom he shares more beef than at a Texan birthday party.
A simple disagreement over a net cord back in Miami has developed into a rivalry based on mutual frictions, and there is the private hope among many fans that the enmity is allowed to flourish if it will provide us with more moments like the points shared by the two men in England’s capital.
Watch the action from Group Andre Agassi right here, as world number one Rafael Nadal suffered defeat and Greek (tennis) God Stefanos Tsitsipas finally got one over his bitterest rival in the game.
Over in Group Bjorn Borg, Roger Federer put his opening day defeat behind him to beat the inexperienced Italian, Matteo Berretini. The truth is that, despite dragging Federer to a first set tie-break, Berrettini was outclassed and looks a little out of his depth in the rarefied atmosphere of a battle between the best eight players in the world.
How many tennis fans would like to have seen Andy Murray or Juan Martin Del Potro in his slot, some might say. But Berretini is there on merit, and although on a steep learning curve, may yet prove a tricky opponent against Dominic Thiem in his final group game. Federer, after this 7-6 (7-2), 6-3 victory, will go into the final group game against Novak Djokovic needing to win to keep any hope of making the semi-finals.
Djokovic, meanwhile, was left shocked after Dominic Thiem beat him in their second group match. In a thrilling contest, the Austrian triumphed 6-7 (5-7) 6-3 7-6 (7-5) to post a comeback win that sees him already through to the semi-finals, and three wins from $2.8 million.
Djokovic, who won the opening set on a tie-break, couldn’t cope with Thiem’s booming groundstrokes in the second set, and trailed 3-0 at one stage, unable to get the racquet to many of Thiem’s low, fizzing shots.
By the close of the deciding third set, Thiem had hit 51 winners to the world number two’s 28, and Djokovic now faces a battle to become world number one by the close of 2019. While his rival for that position, Rafael Nadal, is clearly struggling post-injury at the ATP Finals, so too is the surly Serb.
Djokovic must beat Federer in Thursday’s final group game, but the same is true for Federer, setting up an intriguing tie. Both men need the win to progress, with the replay of the Wimbledon final set to be a classic. If only it was best of five sets rather than three.
You can watch Thiem and Federer get their vital victories here in highlights from Day 3 of the ATP Finals at the O2 Arena in London.