Publish: 14 Nov 2020, 11:09 am
Novak Djokovic is bidding to win the ATP Finals for the record-equaling sixth time that Rafael Nadal is chasing the biggest title missing from his glittering O2 Arena in London.
The top eight players in the men's rankings—with Roger Federer absent—will compete at the end-of-season tournament, starting Sunday behind closed doors amid the coronavirus lockdown in England, reports AFP.
The two round-robin groups have been named Tokyo in 1970 and London in 2020 on the 50th anniversary of the first staging of the event.
The world leader Djokovic is in Tokyo Category alongside Daniil Medvedev, the 2018 champion Alexander Zverev and the Argentine debutant Diego Schwartzman.
Second-seed Nadal will compete against defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem, and Andrey Rublev, who will appear for the first time in the London Group.
The four best-placed players from the round-robin stage will advance to the semi-finals of the tournament, which will take place in London for the final year before heading to Turin.
Six-time champion Federer, who is recovering from knee surgery, is the most notable absentee after the global tennis season of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Five-time champion Djokovic, who recently equalled Pete Sampras’s record of six year-end number one finishes, has lost just three matches this season, with one of those his default at the US Open.
The Serbian, who has not won the London event since 2015, said he was looking to end his season on a high at the elite eight-man event.
“Coming into the tournament and knowing that I have clinched the year-end number one releases some of the pressure, definitely,” he said.
“But at the same time it doesn’t change what I hope to achieve in this tournament and why I’m here.
“I really want to win every single match that I get to play and try to get my hands on the trophy and I want this trophy as much as anybody.”
– Nadal drought –
Nadal, who pulverized Djokovic at the French Open final last month to reach Federer's 20 Grand Slams, qualified for the ATP Finals for a record 16 consecutive years.
Spain's world number two is well aware of its shortcomings in indoor hard courts—only one of its 86 trophies has come to the surface.
“I think I am able to play a little bit better the last couple of years indoors than what I did at the beginning of my career without a doubt but that’s the numbers and I can’t say something different,” said the 34-year-old two-time finalist.
“I hope to change that this week.”
Despite his lack of indoor success, the shortened season could count in Nadal’s favour — he has been forced to withdraw from the ATP Finals six times previously.
Last year’s winner Tsitsipas, who beat Thiem in the final, comes into the tournament after early exits in Vienna and Paris.
“Very happy to be back, that’s for sure,” said the Greek world number six. “Every year I get to experience being back here is thrilling.
“It’s like a meeting spot for those that had a good year to be back here, celebrate their hard work, their dedication to the sport. I’m very privileged to be part of it.”
Austria’s Thiem broke his Grand Slam duck at the US Open in September, beating Zverev in the final, and the world number three said he now felt as comfortable on hard courts as he does on clay.
Zverev, who has won two titles this season, has been dogged in recent weeks by domestic assault allegations made by a former girlfriend but he insists they are untrue.
“While I very much regret that those accusations are made, I have to stick to my initial thing of them being just untrue and continue to deny them,” said the German.
Medvedev, who lost all three matches at his debut in London last year is joining the tournament as one of the formative horses after winning last week's Paris Masters.
Rublev, who had a breakout season, took five championships, and Schwartzman, world number nine, ended the field.
The ATP Finals also feature the top eight doubles teams. U.S. Open champions and French Open finalists Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares are the top seeds.