The ATP Finals begins on Sunday in an unfamiliar setting with some notable regulars absent and two debutants but Novak Djokovic again begins the prestigious year-ender as the immovable ruler of the men’s game.
After a year in which the Serb came agonisingly close to claiming a rare calendar Grand Slam, he is already assured of finishing the year as number one for a record seventh time.
He warmed up for the year-ender being held in Turin for the first time by winning a record sixth Paris title this month, setting a new record of 37 Masters titles in the process.
For added motivation, if he ever needed any, he can emulate Roger Federer’s six ATP Finals titles if he prevails in the Pala Alpitour over the next week.
His bid to match Federer’s haul last year was stalled in the semi-finals by Austrian Dominic Thiem, who then lost to Daniil Medvedev in the showpiece final in a match that marked the end of the event’s 12-year residence at London’s O2 Arena.
Djokovic, who surprisingly has not won the title since 2015, will begin his quest to reclaim it on Monday in his Green Group opener against Norwegian debutant Casper Ruud.
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Also in his group is Greek world number four Stefanos Tsitsipas, who Djokovic beat to win this year’s French Open, and Russian Andrey Rublev.
Medvedev, who crushed Djokovic’s Grand Slam dream by beating him in the US Open final, will open the singles action on Sunday against Polish debutant Hubert Hurkacz and will also be tested in the Red Group by Germany’s Alexander Zverev and Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini.
If Djokovic and Medvedev win their respective groups, the pair could potentially face off in the final — their fourth in 2021 — with the Serbian leading 2-1 after last week’s sensational duel in the French capital.
Djokovic’s only tournament since his Flushing Meadows heartbreak was in Paris and the 34-year-old says he arrives in Turin physically fresher than he would usually feel.
“I haven’t played so much as in previous years in terms of the amount of tournaments but I did have a lot of exhausting events in Grand Slams, particularly emotionally and mentally and that took a lot out of me because of the potential records, which is why I took a break,” Djokovic told reporters on Friday.
A re-fuelled Djokovic could be bad news for his rivals.
“Playing at the highest level against the top eight every single match is high intensity,” Djokovic said. “With a semi-full tank you maybe can’t play at your best here which is what you need to do in every single match.”
Federer will be missing this year as he continues his recovery from injury as will Rafa Nadal who is also preparing for next season following a foot injury.
Top-ranked Croatians Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic will be favourites to win the doubles title in Turin.