Road to Turin: Who will join Djokovic, Medvedev, Tsitsipas in Italy’s debut as host?
With two Masters tournaments to come, young stars jostle for first qualification
A year and a half after one of the biggest tournaments in the calendar, Indian Wells, became the first tennis casualty of the global coronavirus pandemic, it is finally back—though in a very different place in the calendar.
The BNP Paribas Open at the glorious tennis garden in the Californian desert usually heralds a month of hot, challenging tennis: With the Miami Masters, it fills the whole of March, which ends the first hard-court swing of the year before everyone turns to clay.
But with the virus still at large across the world, this most spectacular of tournaments has moved to early October, although still with strict criteria for entry for fans and staff—and it is probably just as well. For Covid-19 has continued to decimate the Asian swing, and 2021 will be the second consecutive year to see the Shanghai Masters and its fellow Chinese and Japanese tournaments cancelled.
What the rescheduling means, however, is that there are still big points up for grabs in the post-Majors segment of the season, though while Indian Wells and Paris fly the Masters flags, there remains a dearth of ATP500s. With the Swiss Indoors long ago cancelled, only Vienna remains in that category, but the tour has added a clutch of 250s this season to help boost the points/rankings opportunities.
Last week, the Astana Open supplemented the indoor swing alongside the Moselle Open. This week, it is San Diego that steps into the breach to provide the ideal conditions, little more than two hours away, to acclimatise players for Indian Wells.
And once a line is drawn under outdoor tennis in mid-October, the indoor events are packed in around the Paris Masters: Moscow and Antwerp in one week, Vienna and a later-than-usual St Petersburg in the next, and Stockholm shoehorned into the week that the Next Gen Finals are played in Milan.
And this all builds towards the season’s climax at the ATP Finals, though that too brings something new to the table.
After a hugely successful 12-year residency at London’s O2 arena, the prestigious end-of-year showdown between the eight top-ranked men in the world will move to Turin for the first of its five years in a brand-new city.
Already, too, that eight-man line-up is taking shape. Indeed as long ago as July, the world No1 Novak Djokovic confirmed his qualification for Turin after winning his third Major of the year, and his 20th overall, at Wimbledon.
It marks his 14th entry for the season finale, where he will be targeting the Roger Federer record of six titles. He also remains on course to end 2021 as year-end No1 for a record-breaking seventh time, having overtaken Federer’s record for weeks at No1 earlier this year.
Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Zverev
Following the US Open, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the ATP Finals champions in the last two years, also qualified.
The Russian denied Djokovic the Grand Slam in New York to win his own first Major having already become the only man not named Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray to reach No2 in 16 years. He also won a fourth Masters title in Toronto, made the final of the Australian Open, and spearheaded Russia’s win the ATP Cup.
Tsitsipas currently leads the tour with 51 match-wins, reached his first Major final at Roland Garros and won his first Masters at Monte-Carlo.
Alexander Zverev has also now made the cut after adding the Cincinnati Masters title to his Madrid crown and making the semis at both Roland Garros and the US Open. He also won gold at the Olympics, but there are no ranking points for that achievement.
New young stars jostle for places
So four places remain, plus two alternate spots, and with current No7 Nadal out for the rest of the season—and Federer and Dominic Thiem are also absent with injury—there is room for some new young players to make a splash for the first time.
Next in line, Andrey Rublev and Matteo Berrettini, have each qualified once before, but Hubert Hurkacz and Casper Ruud, who currently fill the next two places, have not.
Hurkacz announced his intent with a stunning run to the Miami Masters, went off the boil with the clay swing, but bounced back to reach the semis at Wimbledon and has just won his third title of 2021 in Metz.
As for 22-year-old Casper Ruud, he has become the first Norwegian to break the top 10 after winning four straight titles on the clay in little more than two months, and made also two Masters semis.
All of these men except Djokovic are age 25 or younger, but the next pair are barely in the 20s at all. Felix Auger-Aliassime, 21, and 20-year-old Jannik Sinner are certainly strong contenders, too. The latter was runner-up at the Miami Masters, won Washington and the Great Ocean Road Open, and made the fourth round at the US Open. The former made the quarters at Wimbledon and the semis at the US Open.
However, with so many tournaments, including those two big Masters, still to come, there could be late surges from a few others.
The Turin standings
All are scheduled to play Indian Wells next week, but one is playing this week on the indoor courts of Sofia, Sinner, which begs the question, will he make the huge return trip to California? Other scheduled events in the run-up to the Paris Masters are [shown thus].
NB two players qualified with fewer than 3,000 points in 2019, the last year unaffected by changes to points allocation due to Covid.
Novak Djokovic has now announced his withdrawal from Indian Wells.
1 Novak Djokovic 8,370
2 Daniil Medvedev 6,380 [Moscow 250]
3 Stefanos Tsitsipas 5,470 [Vienna 500]
4 Alexander Zverev 4,915 [Vienna 500]
5 Andrey Rublev 4,030 [San Diego 250, Moscow 250, St Petersburg 250]
6 Matteo Berrettini 3,955 [Vienna 500]
[Rafael Nadal absent]
7 Hubert Hurkacz 2,755 [San Diego 250, Vienna 500]
8 Casper Ruud 2,675 [San Diego 250, Vienna 500]
9 Felix Auger-Aliassime 2,320 [San Diego 250, Antwerp 250, Vienna 500]
10 Jannik Sinner 2,255 [Sofia 250, Antwerp 250, Vienna 500]
11 Aslan Karatsev 1,915 [San Diego 250, Moscow 250, St Petersburg 250]
12 Pablo Carreno Busta 1,880 [Antwerp 250, Vienna 500]
13 Denis Shapovalov 1,745 [St Petersburg 250]
14 Cameron Norrie 1,720 [San Diego 250, Antwerp 250, Vienna 500]