Paris Masters 2021: The race is on – to Turin and to year-end No1 – as Djokovic returns to court

Medvedev seeks defence in Paris; Ruud, Sinner, Hurkacz, Norrie chase ATP Finals place

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic (Photo: © e|motion/Bildagentur Zolles KG/Photographer)

The Rolex Paris Masters, the last ATP1000 of the year that butts up against the Nitto ATP Finals, has always had a tricky, and often strategic, role in the fortunes of the elite in men’s tennis.

The top ranked players may already have qualified for the season finale, and at this fatiguing end of the season, may well also be carrying some physical twinges, and so opt out of the draw to preserve their bodies for one last push for the ATP Finals.

There remains, however, the prestige of trying to win one of the tour’s sought-after 1,000 events, and there are often bigger fish to fry, too. It may be the year-end No1 accolade—witness Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in the 2016 run-up to the O2 at London—or it may be qualifying for the ATP Finals. The big Paris points can make all the difference when there is only one ATP250 event left on the calendar, and most players with ATP Finals ambitions would rather use those last precious days between Paris and the finale for rest and preparation.

The Race to Turin

After its stand-out residency at London’s O2, the ATP Finals move to Turin this year, and as Paris gets underway, there are little more than 800 points separating the six men who could still nab the last two places. They range from Casper Ruud, winner of five titles and 51 matches in 2021, who is on 3,105, to Aslan Karatsev on 2,290. In between are ranged Jannik Sinner, Hubert Hurkacz, Cameron Norrie and Felix Auger-Aliassime.

In their way in the draw are others who may already have sealed their qualification, but will still have no qualms about ending the chances of others. After all, there is that end-of-year No1 to consider for two of them, plus the not inconsiderable issue of prize money: €336,000 for the singles champion.

Race to year-end No1

The top two seeds have extra matters on which to focus in Paris: Can No2 seed Daniil Medvedev unseat No1 seed Djokovic after more than a year at the top, and with an ever-growing record of 344 weeks as the top dog?

In the last match they played, Medvedev beat Djokovic to deny the Serb an historic Calendar Slam at the US Open. It earned the Russian his first Major title, and with it the chance to overtake Djokovic by the end of the year. However, Medvedev’s hopes took a hit at the October-scheduled Indian Wells, where he lost in the third round, though Djokovic was not in the draw to build on his own points.

Neither man has played since—until now. But they can only meet in the final, and that would mean Medvedev’s campaign for the No1 spot this season was in stormy waters. If they contest the title—and both are former Paris champions—Medvedev has to win to keep alive hopes of reaching No1 by the end of 2021. Indeed, the Russian has to remain one step ahead throughout the draw.

Put bluntly, Djokovic claims the record seventh year-end No1 if:

· He wins Paris title

· He reaches final and Medvedev does not win the title

· He reaches the semis and Medvedev does not reach the final

· He reaches the Round 3 or the quarters and Medvedev does not reach the semis

· Medvedev does not reach the quarters

Once Paris is over, the only remaining route past Djokovic might be that ATP250 tournament in Stockholm, but given that Medvedev will be eager to defend his ATP Finals title, that looks an unlikely option for the Russian

Who will find their pot of gold?

So what are the possible impediments to Djokovic’s remarkable target in Turin? Well there is one immediately after his first-round bye, in the shape of either No36 Fabio Fognini or No39 Marton Fucsovics. Round 3 may bring No15 seed Gael Monfils or a man who, until this week, was still in the Race for Turin, Nikoloz Basilashvili, unseeded but at a ranking of 25.

The quarter-final has seeds No10 Norrie and No5 Andrey Rublev, which makes the Briton’s chances of Turin qualification a real challenge. The Indian Wells champion did beat Rublev in San Diego, but he has never played Djokovic.

Whoever comes through this quarter could find other Turin hopefuls fighting for a semi-final spot. Stefanos Tsitsipas has already qualified, but Auger-Aliassime and Hurkacz have not—and they could set a blockbuster Round 3 meeting.

Meanwhile, the ever-improving Murray, a former Paris champion, could disrupt both: He is lined up for the young Canadian in Round 2, although the wild-card Briton has yet again drawn the short straw with the qualifier he has picked up in Round 1. The 21-year-old Jensen Brooksby, ranked 59, has been setting the tour alight since the US Open Series, beginning with a final finish in Newport, semis in Washington, fourth round of the US Open and, heading indoors, the semis in Antwerp.

The three Turin hopefuls in the bottom half in Paris also have some trip-wires to impede their ambitions.

Ruud needs the fewest points to qualify, but his immediate segment holds No11 seed Diego Schwartzman, who was within touching distance of the top-eight cut-off until he was beaten by Frances Tiafoe in Vienna. The Argentine could meet Tiafoe again in the second round, with the winner facing Ruud in the third round. The always dangerous Dan Evans and John Millman pack this eight-man segment.

To reach the semis, the survivor will likely face either Vienna champion Alexander Zverev, former champion Karen Khachanov, or Grigor Dimitrov.

The second in line for qualification, Sinner, has an immediate difficulty in the shape of teenage star Carlos Alcaraz, whose recent form should take him past wild-card Pierre-Hugues Herbert in Round 1. A highly anticipated Sinner/Alcaraz meeting, their first on the main tour for these two brilliant young players, could be the start of a long and memorable rivalry.

Also here is No12 seed Pablo Carreno Busta, and any one of the three will add to the difficulties for Medvedev in defending his title. The Russian’s first seed is another Turin hopeful, Karatsev, who beat Medvedev in their only main-tour meeting, in Rome this year. Also in contention is yesterday’s St Petersburg champion, Marin Cilic.

Medvedev, then, could face, in succession, Karatsev/Cilic, Sinner/Alcaraz, Ruud/Dimitrov/Tiafoe/Zverev, and all before having to beat Djokovic in the final. Paris will test the Russian’s mettle to the limit, and all that after drawing Winston Salem champion Ilya Ivashka as a possible opening opponent.

Former champions in draw

Djokovic [five times], Medvedev [one], Khachanov [one], Murray [one]

Potential seeds missing from draw

Matteo Berrettini, Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Roger Federer, Denis Shapovalov, Cristian Garin

Djokovic Paris records:

Most titles, five; oldest champion, age 32 in 2019; most match-wins, 37

Race to Turin [scheduled tournaments]

Qualified

1. Novak Djokovic 8,380 [Paris Masters]

2. Daniil Medvedev 6,480 [Paris Masters]

3. Stefanos Tsitsipas 5,695 [Paris Masters]

4. Alexander Zverev 5,605 [Paris Masters, Stockholm 250]

5. Andrey Rublev 4,210 [Paris Masters]

6. Matteo Berrettini 4,090

Chasing qualification [two places, plus reserve]

7. Casper Ruud 3,105 [Paris Masters, Stockholm 250]

8. Jannik Sinner 3,015 [Paris Masters, Stockholm 250]

9. Hubert Hurkacz 2,965 [Paris Masters, Stockholm 250]

10. Cameron Norrie 2,865 [Paris Masters, Stockholm 250]

11. Felix Auger-Aliassime 2,430 [Paris Masters, Stockholm 250]

12. Aslan Karatsev 2,290 [Paris Masters, Stockholm 250]

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