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Djokovic vs. Alcaraz, Medvedev vs. Sinner: Our ATP Finals semifinal preview
The final four in Turin will feature the ATP’s Top 4, and two rivalries that have heated up in 2023.
Published Nov 17, 2023
The road was a little roundabout, and a couple of top players nearly fell out of the van along the way, but the ATP Finals will close with a fitting year-end foursome this weekend. Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Daniil Medvedev and Jannik Sinner are ranked No. 1, 2, 3, and 4 respectively, and together they combined to win all four Grand Slams and seven of the nine Masters 1000s in 2023. Saturday’s semifinals—Medvedev vs. Sinner early; Djokovic vs. Alcaraz late—will serve as a proper send-off to this season, and offer an early preview of the next one.
Djokovic vs. Alcaraz obviously comes with an epic recent history, but Medvedev vs. Sinner has an intriguing one as well, as the balance of power between the Russian and the Italian has shifted. Here’s a look ahead at what we can expect from each match.
Medvedev vs. Sinner
Sinner has been on a roll lately. According to him, he owes some of his success to Medvedev.
“Thanks for making me a much better player,” the 22-year-old told the 27-year-old after beating him in two tiebreakers in the Beijing final last month.
Both men reside in Monte Carlo, so it’s safe to say they’ve seen a fair amount of each other’s games over the years. Until the match in Beijing, though, it was only Medvedev who had benefited from that inside information. He was 6-0 against Sinner to that point, and two of those wins had come earlier in 2023, in the finals of Rotterdam and Miami.
Back then, Medvedev was on an early-season hot streak, winning four tournaments in a row and two Masters 1000s. Now, as the season draws to a close, Sinner is blazing a similar path. Medvedev’s advantage over him, both in their head-to-head and in the ATP’s pecking order, has largely vanished. Sinner has moved up to No. 4, one spot behind Medvedev, and in Vienna he won his second straight final over him, this time in three sets.
All of which means this should be a hotly contested semifinal. Sinner will want to send his Turin faithful into another frenzy, and give himself a chance to play for the title in front of them. Medvedev, always a proud competitor, will really not want to lose to his former whipping boy for a third straight time in the course of six weeks.
Can Medvedev turn things back in his favor, and hold back the Italian tide? Sinner has beaten him with a combination of aggression and patience. He has looked to come in behind his serve or his forehand whenever possible, and take advantage of Medvedev’s deep positioning. In Beijing and Vienna, Sinner approached the net twice as often as Medvedev, and he has played the same way on the fast court in Turin. Just as important, Sinner has also shown a stubborn belief in himself in the crucial moments against Medvedev. In Beijing he was clearly superior in the tiebreakers, and in Vienna he was composed enough to squander seven break points early in the third before finally converting.
Medvedev has said that he needs to serve better against Sinner, and to find a way to inject some offense at crucial stages, like tiebreakers. That sounds like a plan for Saturday. The surface will favor Sinner, and Medvedev won’t suddenly be able to take over the rallies and force him onto the defensive. Clutch serves, targeted aggression, and intimidating passing shots will be his weapons. As for Sinner, he needs to keep doing what he’s been doing, and believe in his attacking capabilities.
The Italian crowd will be an X-factor. They’ll help Sinner, but how will they affect Medvedev? At some point, their one-sidedness will get under his skin. Will he lose his cool and play worse, or will he get his back up and play better? It’s just one more reason to tune in. Winner: Sinner
Djokovic vs. Alcaraz
“Ups and downs, highs and lows, incredible points, poor games, heat strokes.” That’s how Djokovic described his three-and-a-half hour win over Alcaraz in Cincinnati in August.
But he could also have been talking about his two other encounters with the Spaniard in 2023—these guys tend to send each other on a physical and mental roller-coaster ride whenever they meet. At Roland Garros, they blazed their way through two brilliant sets before Alcaraz cramped. At Wimbledon, they staged a see-saw five-set classic that included one of the longest games in memory. In Cincy, Djokovic recovered from a near-collapse in the heat, and somehow caught Alcaraz at the finish line.
A Djokovic-Alcaraz final in Turin would have been the perfect season finale, but we’ll take any match we can get between them. In truth, both have had a shaky moment or two this week. Alcaraz lost to Alexander Zverev in his opener, while Djokovic came up short for the first time against Jannik Sinner, and had to rely on Sinner coming through in a close one against Holger Rune to reach the semis.
Looking past this week, Djokovic has been more in-form than Alcaraz for about five months now, and he easily out-distanced him in their race for the year-end No. 1. The Wimbledon final may have felt like a changing of the guard at the time, but since then Alcaraz has failed to win a tournament, while Djokovic went on a 19-match win streak, and won a Slam and two Masters 1000s. His loss to Sinner aide, Djokovic has been especially good in close matches, while Alcaraz has had trouble finding the consistency that took him to No. 1 earlier in the year.
Who will have the edge on this day, on this fast court? Djokovic is obviously versatile when it comes to surfaces, and he won in Turin last year. Alcaraz loves clay, but has also won Wimbledon and the US Open. Both guys are baseliners at heart, but Saturday’s match may end up being a race to the net. We know Djokovic has gradually added net play to his arsenal in recent years. As for Alcaraz, he briefly complained about the speed of the court in his semifinal against Medvedev, before deciding the best to combat it was to get to net however and whenever possible. It worked.
For Alcaraz, this match may come down to his forehand. If it’s firing, he’ll have a weapon that Djokovic will struggle to match; if it’s misfiring, Djokovic will be able to break it down. For Djokovic, it may be a question of how aggressive to be. Do you try to force Alcaraz to defend, the way he did at Roland Garros, or do you try to find ways to get him to overhit, the way he did in Cincy?
I picked Djokovic to win this tournament at the start of the week, but I’ll go with Alcaraz now. He has shown some signs of his first-half-of-2023 brilliance this week, and he may feel like he has a little less to lose than he did earlier in the year.
There probably won’t be any heat strokes or cramps in this edition of Nolitos, but there are bound to be fireworks. Winner: Alcaraz