Usual suspects on song at ATP Finals

 - Alex Sharp

The world’s top 3 male players and a dazzling debutant have navigated through to the last four at the season-ending ATP Finals.

Daniil Medvedev screaming during the 2021 ATP finals© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

For the best part of 15 years the much heralded ‘Big Three’ of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have dominated the tennis landscape.

Unfortunately, two of these legendary figures remain sidelined, which has led to the emergence of a new triumvirate – Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev.

That’s the world No.1, No.2, No.3 who have between them snatched away all the four Grand Slams and Olympic gold in 2021.

This trio have all previously triumphed at the ATP Finals and all three have advanced to the semi-finals this time out in Turin without too much drama at all. Debutant Casper Ruud has joined the weekend party too.

Djokovic driven and destructive as ever

Djokovic has spoken at length how his gladiatorial pursuit of the Calendar Grand Slam became overbearing, but now the 20-time major winner is back to his defiant best.

His Olympics semi-final rollercoaster defeat to Zverev and US Open final dagger from Medvedev were massive defeats.

However, building on his triumph at the Rolex Paris Masters, the top seed has been chatting in Italian during interviews, signing oodles of autographs for the Turin natives and walking around with a spring in his step. All appears well in the Djokovic camp.

Novak Djokovic fist pumping as he qualifies for the semis at the 2021 ATP Finals© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

On court too the five-time ATP Finals champion is unrelenting, putting on a series of defensive masterclasses to reel in Andrey Rublev and Ruud in straight sets. A wall at the baseline, Roland-Garros champion Djokovic is looking sharp.

“I really am in a good place at the moment.” Watch any of his round robin matches, you’d believe it.

Locking horns in battle for history

Now it’s time to lock horns with Zverev again on the grandest of stages.

2018 champion Zverev advanced to the last four despite a nail-biting three-set loss to Medvedev earlier this week.

The 24-year-old has been solid, not spectacular. There’s plenty left in the tank to tackle the top seed for the fifth time this season.

Alexander Zverev serving between light and shadow ATP Finals 2021© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“We played basically every single big event this year on hard court against each other, right? We played at the Australian Open, we played at the Olympics, and we played at the US Open, so it's only right that we play each other here as well,” reflected the German, edged by the Serbian in Melbourne and New York battles.

“Every single match that we played we both needed to be at our best. One or two points decided the matches. I expect no different here.”

Reigning champion ready to go the distance

Any time Medvedev saunters onto a tennis court, you know it’s going to be worth watching.

His idiosyncrasies and raw reaction make him compelling viewing. The US Open champion jokes with opponents, whips up the crowd, pretends to yawn, has his say with the umpires, it’s brilliant viewing.

Make no mistakes though, Medvedev is steely in his intent to hold onto the ATP Finals title. Three round robin matches facing Hubert Hurkacz, Zverev and then home charge Jannik Sinner (despite being a dead rubber) and three matches going right down to the wire. Medvedev means business in Turin.

“I don't like to lose, so it's very tough for me, like in the third set when I was down, I definitely didn't play the way I play usually, I just couldn't afford myself to run anymore like from corner to corner,” admitted Medvedev, saving two match points to edge past Sinner.

“I just went for it. When you win three matches out of three, you like everything.”

Nice hug at the net between Casper Ruud and Andrey Rublev during 2021 ATP Finals© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Ruud planning to disrupt

In the groove, outgunning his opponents in terms of shots and stamina, the world No.2 must now wear down debutant Ruud.

The 22-year-old continues to notch up impressive results in 2021, a season packed with five titles. Ruud erased a break in both the second and third sets to dissolve Andrey Rublev’s resolve 2-6, 7-5, 7-6(5) on Friday.

“It’s a great feeling,” said the world No.8, who began the campaign ranked at No.27. “Tomorrow will be the biggest match of my career so far, so I’ll have to play my best if I’m going to have any chance.  

“This is probably one of the toughest challenges with this sport: the better you do, the tougher it will get, you will play more and more matches against tougher players. I’m very excited.”

Medvedev edged two tight previous encounters in straight sets, however, Ruud is a completely different proposition in this form.

Casper Ruud qualified for the semis in the 2021 ATP Finals© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

“I hope I can have the crowd a little bit on my side because I'm playing the No. 2 player in the world,” added the Norwegian, who is based at the Rafael Nadal Academy in Mallorca.

“I think it could be a good thing for me to have the people in my back. I will just try to fight and run until I'm too tired to run. I have lost to him two times before, so I have to come up with a better game plan.”