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Ricky’s Preview and Picks for Day 5 of the Nitto ATP Finals: Nadal vs. Tsitsipas, Thiem vs. Rublev

Rafael Nadal has won five of six meetings vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas.

By Ricky Dimon

A semifinal spot at the Nitto ATP Finals all comes down to Rafael Nadal vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas on Thursday night. It could not be any less complicated: the winner is in; the loser is out. At the other end of two extremes, the afternoon match is a virtual dead rubber: Dominic Thiem has already clinched Group B, while Andrey Rublev has been eliminated.

Ricky previews the action and makes his predictions.

(2) Rafael Nadal vs. (5) Stefanos Tsitsipas

It will be a virtual quarterfinal contest when Nadal and Tsitsipas wrap up round-robin competition in Group B on Thursday night. Both players are 1-1 through two matches, while Thiem has already clinched the Group-B win at 2-0 and Rublev has been eliminated at 0-2. Nadal opened with a 6-3, 6-4 rout of Rublev before losing to Thiem 7-6(7), 7-6(4) in an incredibly high-quality contest on Tuesday. Tsitsipas has not been as impressive, falling to Thiem 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-3 and then outlasting Rublev 6-1, 4-6, 7-6(6).

Although Tsitsipas is the defending champion in London, he is not quite looking like the same player who was on display at the end of 2019. The sixth-ranked Greek went into this week coming off a second-round loss in Vienna (to Grigor Dimitrov) and in his opening match at the Paris Masters (to Ugo Humbert).

Even when Tstsipas was at his best last fall and went on to lift the trophy inside the O2 Arena, he still lost to Nadal during round-robin action via a 6-7(4), 6-4, 7-5 decision. That gave the second-ranked Spaniard a commanding 5-1 lead in the head-to-head series, which is where it currently stands because they have not faced each other this year. Nadal is 3-0 lifetime against Tsitsipas on hard courts.

If the 34-year-old plays anywhere close to his level against Thiem, it should be enough to once again break down the Tsitsipas backhand and send him through to the semis.

Pick: Nadal in 2

Dominic Thiem has secured his spot in his second straight ATP Finals semifinals.

(3) Dominic Thiem vs. (7) Andrey Rublev

Thiem will find himself in a familiar situation when he faces Rublev. Last year in London, the Austrian won his first two matches against none other than Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. Having already clinched the group win, Thiem lost a relatively meaningless match to Matteo Berrettini in straight sets. The story is the same so far this week, as the world No. 3 has already wrapped up Group B thanks to victories over Tsitsipas and Nadal. Like Berrettini in 2019, Rublev (0-2) is already out–so it will basically be another dead rubber even though prize money and ranking points are on the line.

Rublev should have plenty of motivation, just as Berrettini did last fall. The eighth-ranked Russian is still looking for his first-ever win at this prestigious event, as this is his debut appearance. He came incredibly close on Tuesday against Tsitsipas, even holding a match point on his own serve only to double-fault at 6-5 in the third-set tiebreaker and eventually lose.

Still, it was a big improvement for Rublev after getting blown out by Nadal in his opening match. With two outings under his belt, the 23-year-old should now look more like the player who leads the ATP Tour with five titles in 2020. Since tennis returned from the coronavirus hiatus, he has triumphed in Hamburg, St. Petersburg, and Vienna while also reaching a pair of Grand Slam quarterfinals.

Rublev will also take additional confidence from the fact that he has won two in a row against Thiem to level the head-to-head series at 2-2. Unless Thiem is unexpectedly more motivated than he was in this same situation last year, this should be a great opportunity for Rublev.

Pick: Rublev in 2

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