Nitto ATP Finals 2020: Djokovic and Nadal seek special title in London’s minor-key swansong

Draws, prize money, records and statistics ahead of 12th and final year of O2 residency

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

It was not meant to end like this.

Fifty years after the inauguration of one of the most prestigious tournaments in men’s tennis, and 12 years after it first took centre stage in London’s biggest arena, the ATP World Tour Finals—variously known as The Masters, The Masters Cup, and now the Nitto ATP Finals—will play its O2 swansong to the sound of silence.

The coronavirus pandemic has played havoc with any notion of certainty, of predictability, of forward planning. Indeed never have the words of Robert Burns—“The best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men…” been more timely.

There should have been another quarter-million fans packing out the biggest tennis venue in Europe. There will be none.

There should have been a party atmosphere for this 50th birthday, this farewell to London, but celebrations will instead be filtered through TV and computer screens.

The players, along with tennis fans around the world, will nevertheless be grateful, during such a devastating year for so many, that the event can be played at all. And the protagonists are surely growing used to the restrictions of a ‘bubble existence’, although the ones who are familiar with how London has hosted the tournament during the last 11 years will know just what they are missing.

Yet a clue to this special year will be put centre-stage in the choice of names for the singles groups. Not the names of past champions, as has been the habit of late, but the first venue, Tokyo, and the 50th, London.

And the usually unadorned court will this year spell out the occasion: ‘50 Years’ and ‘1970-2020’.

There will, of course, be plenty of viewer engagement via social media and television. The ATP is running a prize draw in aid of Cancer Research UK, which will give tennis fans the chance to win signed memorabilia, a once-in-a-lifetime Nitto ATP Finals experience in 2021, and more (enter here).

In a series of video interviews, participants from different eras will meet remotely to talk about some of the tournament’s most memorable stories. The first, between Novak Djokovic and Pete Sampras, has already been uploaded—a timely pairing in the month that Djokovic equalled the American’s record six year-end No1s.

Also promised are first champion Stan Smith, two-time champions Bjorn Borg and Lleyton Hewitt, five-time winner Ivan Lendl, and Roger Federer, who has won a record six titles. Djokovic will also be aiming to match that Swiss star’s record with victory next week.

So where, in this minor-key finale, might the headlines be made next week?

· Will top seed Djokovic fulfil his dream of two end-of-year records—matching both Sampras and Federer? His record in the truncated 2020 season suggests that he is certainly the man to beat: 39-3, with titles at the ATP Cup, the Australian Open, and two Masters, plus the French Open runner-up.

· Will No2 seed and the 2019 year-end No1, Rafael Nadal, finally tick off the biggest title missing from his resume? He has qualified for the ATP Finals every year since 2005, and despite missing the event six times with end-of-season injury, he has reached two finals—but he has yet to win.

· Thirty-somethings Djokovic and Nadal will top the two pools, while the most prolific champion and qualifier, 39-year-old Federer, is unable to take up his place as he continues rehab from knee surgery. All the other qualifiers were born in the 1990s.

· So could there be a fourth successive champion born in the 90s? 2017 victor Grigor Dimitrov did not make this year’s cut, but the last two champions, 23-year-old Alexander Zverev and 22-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas, are back.

· 27-year-old Dominic Thiem was runner-up in London last year, runner-up at this year’s Australian Open, and went on to win his first Major at the US Open.

· The new No4 this week, 24-year-old Daniil Medvedev, is in London for the second time, and on the back of winning the Paris Masters, while his compatriot, 23-year-old Andrey Rublev, is making his debut after putting together one of the year’s best seasons—40 match-wins and five titles.

· Last to qualify is perhaps an unlikely addition given that as recently as early October Diego Schwartzman was ranked 14. But the ever improving, ever fitter and more confident Argentine reached his first Masters final in Rome—losing to Djokovic—and his first Major semi at Roland Garros—losing Nadal. And a final run indoors in Cologne showed he is not just a clay-court aficionado.

The draw was made live on BBC radio, and arguably, Djokovic’s hopes of victory took an upward turn. For world No3 Thiem landed in Nadal’s half, along with last year’s champion, Tsitsipas, plus that 40-win tally of Rublev—whose last two titles, incidentally, came this autumn on the indoor hard courts of St Petersburg and Vienna.

Play begins at midday on Sunday.

Group Tokyo 1970

[1] Novak Djokovic

[4] Daniil Medvedev [H2H vs Djokovic, 2-4]

[5] Alexander Zverev [H2H vs Djokovic, 2-3]

[8] Diego Schwartzman [H2H vs Djokovic, 0-5]

Group London 2020

[2] Rafael Nadal
[3] Dominic Thiem [H2H vs Nadal, 5-9]

[6] Stefanos Tsitsipas [H2H vs Nadal, 1-5]
[7] Andrey Rublev [H2H vs Nadal, 0-1]

Two alternates are Matteo Berrettini and Denis Shapovalov.

Points available: Round-robin match-win, 200; Semi-final win, 400; Final win, 500; Undefeated champion, 1,500

Prize money [doubles]

Participation fee: $153,000 [$68,500]—pro rata on a per match basis

Round-robin win: $153,000 [$30,000]

Semi-final win: $402,000 [$56,000]

Final win: $550,000 [$70,000]

Undefeated champion: $1,564,000. NB last year, $2,712,000

Did you know…?

Most singles titles: Federer, six

Most consecutive titles: Djokovic, four

Most singles finals: Federer, 10

Most years qualified: Federer, 18

Most consecutive years qualified: Nadal, 16

Oldest champion: Federer 30, in 2011

Youngest champion: John McEnroe, 19 in 1978

Lowest-ranked champion: No12 David Nalbandian, 2005

Youngest to qualify/compete: Aaron Krickstein, 1984, age 17

Oldest to qualify/compete: Federer, 38

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