Nitto ATP Finals preview & pick: Novak Djokovic vs. Alexander Zverev

Nitto ATP Finals preview & pick: Novak Djokovic vs. Alexander Zverev

In their third ATP Finals meeting, the Serb and the German look to punch their ticket to the semifinals in this win-or-go-home clash.

For the first time in a long time, the typically complex Nitto ATP Finals qualification scenarios couldn’t be simpler. With Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem having cruised to their respective semifinal rounds, the winner of each group’s final round-robin live rubber will move on to the final four. In a rematch of the 2018 final, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev will face off in London for the third time. 

It was in the 2018 final against Djokovic that Zverev summoned some of his best-ever tennis. After losing to the Serbian in the round-robin stage, a free-swinging and fiery Zverev dominated the world No. 1, 6-3, 6-4, to capture his first ATP Finals crown.

The Serbian leads their head-to-head, 3-2, but for some weird reason, whoever wins between the two does so in dominant fashion. Not only have they never split sets in any of their previous five encounters, they’ve never even played a tiebreak. Hopefully that changes on Friday. 

To advance, the Serbian will need to recover from a 6-3, 6-3 thrashing against Medvedev on Wednesday. It’s not often Djokovic looks like the lesser athlete on a tennis court, but that was the case against the Russian. Medvedev dominated Djokovic with more consistency from the ground, swifter movement, and bigger serving. 

“He was just better, no question about it,” Djokovic said after the match. 

While the world No. 1 remains a substantial -250 favorite to beat Zverev, one has to wonder about his current motivation level. He’s won this tournament five times before, and has secured a record-tying sixth year-end No. 1 finish. After a turbulent season on and off the court—filled with questionable decision-making during his Adria Tour, an unlucky on-court accident with potential all-time great ramifications, as well as a straight-set thumping in the Roland Garros final—how much does Djokovic actually care about winning this tournament?

We’ll find out soon enough if it will be a laser-focused and motivated Djokovic who shows up, or a disinterested version of him—the one in Vienna who lost to Lorenzo Sonego, 6-2, 6-1, after securing the year-end No. 1 finish.

Zverev typically brings his best tennis as an underdog. Two years ago, he was simply sensational, cracking clean winners off the ground from both wings. 

The German’s backhand is always rock-solid, but when he finds the range on his forehand and serve he can appear unbeatable. 

The ATP Finals is a notoriously difficult tournament to predict, but the loser-go-home nature of this best-of-three set match should ensure maximum effort from both players. In the end, your guess is as good as mine, but if the German strikes first against the Serbian, especially on the heels of the world No. 1's comprehensive beatdown against Medvedev on Wednesday, he could take the wind out of Djokovic’s sails. 

The Pick: Alexander Zverev