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TennisBalls • Ricky’s Preview & Picks For Day 1 • Nitto ATP Finals In London, Including Federer vs. Thiem • 10sBalls

By Ricky Dimon

Ricky’s daily previews and picks from the Nitto ATP Finals get started with Sunday’s Group B round-robin matches. Novak Djokovic is kicking off his campaign against Matteo Berrettini before Roger Federer faces Dominic Thiem in the nightcap. What should be a wild, high-stakes week in London will likely begin with a bang.

(1) Novak Djokovic vs. (8) Matteo Berrettini

Berrettini’s first appearance at the year-end championship will also mark his first-ever meeting with Djokovic–a tall task, to be sure. It is certainly an unexpected setting for this head-to-head showdown, as Berrettini was nowhere near the London picture heading into this season. His career-high ranking had been No. 52 in the world, but out of nowhere the 23-year-old Italian soared to No. 8 with a 42-21 record, two titles, and a semifinal showing at the U.S. Open.

Djokovic has qualified for this prestigious event 12 times, lifting the trophy in 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. The Serb will be especially eager to tie Federer with six titles after finishing runner-up in each of his last two appearances (2016 and 2018).

Since retiring from a USO match against Stan Wawrinka due to a shoulder injury, Djokovic has bounced back in impressive fashion on the fall swing. He captured the Tokyo title with ease, reached the Shanghai semis, and triumphed in Paris for a fifth time. Berrettini, on the other hand, is just 8-5 this fall.

Prediction: Djokovic in 2

(5) Dominic Thiem vs. (3) Roger Federer

Federer is bidding for his seventh year-end championship title; Thiem is hoping to qualify for the semifinals for the first time ever. One of those efforts will get off to a positive start, while the other will be put in an early hole.

Thiem holds a surprising 4-2 lead in the head-to-head series, including 2-0 this season. The Austrian prevailed 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the Indian Wells final and 3-6, 7-6(11), 6-4 in the Madrid quarters. Federer, however, is 2-1 against Thiem on hard courts and dominated their only previous O2 Arena meeting 6-2, 6-3 during round-robin action last fall.

The 38-year-old has not lifted this trophy since 2011, but that will not improve Thiem’s confidence–or lack thereof. Federer has reached the final three times since then and boasts a 30-10 lifetime record in London. He is poised for additional success with an 8-1 record since the USO that includes a 10th Basel title.

Thiem will always be at his best on clay, but he is new and improved on hard courts this year. In addition to his Indian Wells triumph, the world No. 5 lifted trophies in Beijing and Vienna to turn in what has been by far the best fall swing of his career. He also reached the Shanghai quarters, having never advanced past the second round in four previous trips to that tournament. As such, Thiem cannot be discounted from being in the mix for a semifinal berth even though he finds himself in a rough group with Federer and Djokovic.

On this surface, Federer will serve too well and play too aggressive for Thiem to get into a rhythm from the back on the court. The Swiss has to like his chances.

Prediction: Federer in 2

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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