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Ricky’s Preview and Picks for Day 3 of the Nitto ATP Finals: Nadal vs. Thiem and Tsitsipas vs. Rublev

Andrey Rublev has won an ATP-best five titles in 2020.

By Ricky Dimon

Either Rafael Nadal or Dominic Thiem will take control of Group B at the Nitto ATP Finals on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev are hoping to pick up their first victory of the week.

Ricky previews the action and makes his predictions

(5) Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. (7) Andrey Rublev

Tsitsipas vs. Rublev is turning into a bit of a rivalry. They have already squared off twice since tennis returned from its coronavirus hiatus, and both matches came on big stages. Rublev triumphed 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 in the Hamburg final before Tsitsipas scored revenge with a 7-5, 6-2, 6-3 rout in the French Open quarters. The Russian leads the overall head-to-head series 3-2, although it is all tied up 2-2 at the ATP level.

Tsitsipas is the defending champion in London, but he does not have a ton of momentum behind him right now. The sixth-ranked Green followed up his Roland Garros semifinal run with a Vienna second-round loss to Grigor Dimitrov and an opening setback in Paris at the hands of Ugo Humbert. Tsitsipas’ losing streak hit three matches when he fell to Thiem in the first match of this tournament.

Rublev is making his debut inside the O2 Arena, having clinched a Nitto ATP Finals in especially impressive fashion. The eighth-ranked Russian is an incredible 40-9 this season and leads the tour with five titles. However, he got a rude welcome in London from Nadal on Sunday.

That is an understandable result, though, given that it was Rublev’s first-ever match at the event and came against the top seed in Group B. Tsitsipas may not be as tough of a test, in part because the 23-year-old has not been 100 percent physically since the French Open and didn’t sound overly confident following his loss to Thiem.

With a match under his belt, Rublev should raise his level to something like what was on display in Hamburg, Paris, St. Petersburg, and Vienna.

Pick: Rublev in 3

US Open champion Dominic Thiem takes on Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal in a blockbuster ATP Finals round-robin clash.

(2) Rafael Nadal vs. (3) Dominic Thiem

The two most recent Grand Slam champions kicked off their respective London campaigns in style on Sunday. Thiem opened with a 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3 victory over defending champion Tsitsipas, while Nadal took care of year-end championship debutant Rublev 6-3, 6-4.

This round-robin winners’ match marks the 15th career contest between Nadal and Thiem, with the Spaniard leading the head-to-head series 9-5. Not too surprisingly, a whopping 12 of their 14 previous meetings have come on clay. However, Thiem has improved dramatically on hard courts of late and as a result he went up against Nadal deep into the fortnight at hard-court slams twice in the past three seasons. The current world No. 2 survived 0-6, 6-4, 7-5, 6-7(4), 7-6(5) in the 2018 U.S. Open quarterfinals, while the Austrian prevailed 7-6(3), 7-6(4), 4-6, 7-6(6) at the same stage of this year’s Australian Open.

Thiem eventually finished runner-up to Novak Djokovic Down Under (lost in five sets) but finally captured his first slam title at this summer’s U.S. Open (beat Alexander Zverev in a fifth-set tiebreaker). The world No. 3 somewhat understandably has not done much since then, but he is well-rested for London and that has already paid off in the form of his victory over Tsitsipas.

The same can be said of Nadal, who won the French Open for the 13th time in his illustrious career and then took some time off until the next Parisian event indoors in Bercy. He advanced to the semifinals but lost to Zverev in straight sets. Nadal has still never won the Paris Masters, nor has he ever lifted the trophy at the Nitto ATP Finals.

With Nadal never at his best inside the O2 Arena, this is a good opportunity for Thiem to start 2-0 in London for a second straight year.

Prediction: Thiem in 3

Ricky contributes to10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.