Both Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev kicked off their 2020 ATP Finals debut in brilliant fashion on Monday, with the latter defeating Alexander Zverev 6-3, 6-4, and the former dispatching Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 6-2.
It’s fitting that the Lacoste-wearing superstars will face off in the season’s final tournament, as the pair kicked off the 2020 season with one of the best matches of the year at the Inaugural ATP Cup in January, won by the Serbian—6-1, 5-7, 6-4.
Matchups are everything in tennis, and while the Russian trails Djokovic 2-4 in their career head-to-head, he is one of the few players capable of administering the world No. 1 a small taste of his own Gumby-like, court-shrinking medicine.
Excluding a 2017 clash on grass in Eastbourne in 2017, Medvedev has won a set in each of their five previous encounters. It’s become quite clear this past decade that you don’t defeat Djokovic by hitting hard to the corners, but you can (sometimes) frustrate him with disciplined, deep, and consistent hitting.
It’s almost as if your best chance is to bore him to death, and deprive him of any opportunity to use your pace and angles to his advantage. That’s only possible if your fitness and determination is comparable to his own, but Medvedev has proven twice before that he’s up to the task.
Their ATP Cup clash was sensational. It was filled with dozens of 30-plus shot rallies and absurd shot-making. “The whole match was a highlight,” said the commentator after the match.
After the match, Djokovic fell flat on the court, exhausted from his Herculean effort that sent Team Serbia to the final round.
Medvedev owns a devastating two-handed backhand. He hardly ever misses it. But unfortunately for him, his Wednesday opponent owns arguably the greatest backhand of all time.
On a good day, Medvedev can go toe-to-toe with Djokovic’s backhand, but the Serb separates himself with his ability to change the pace and pattern, seen here with a shrewd and short backhand slice that brought Medvedev forward, allowing Djokovic to shift the rally to Medvedev’s much weaker forehand wing.
It’s little things like this that Medvedev doesn’t quite utilize as effectively as Djokovic, and that will likely prove to be the difference maker. According to the oddsmakers, Djokovic is a solid -230 favorite against the Russian. After his sensational three-loss, four-title season, the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament is a safe bet to remain undefeated in round-robin play.
The Pick: Novak Djokovic