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Tennis • Ricky’s Preview And Picks For The Nitto ATP Finals Semis: Djokovic vs. Thiem And Nadal vs. Medvedev

If Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem’s previous three encounters are any indication of what to expect on Saturday, tennis fans are in for a treat. 

By Ricky Dimon

Both of the Nitto ATP Finals semis on Saturday will be rematches of absolutely wild contests at last year’s event. Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem will kick off the proceedings before Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev take center stage during the night session. Get your popcorn ready for what should be a pair of awesome contests.

Ricky previews the action and makes his predictions.

(1B) Dominic Thiem vs. (2A) Novak Djokovic

Djokovic and Thiem squared off in the round-robin stage last fall, when Thiem won what was without question one of 2019’s best matches 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(5). Absolute thrillers are nothing out of the ordinary when these two competitors collide. Final sets have been required in four of their last five matches and the only exception is a 7-6(2), 7-6(4) victory for Djokovic at the 2019 Madrid Masters. They most recently met for the Australian Open title, with the Serb triumphing 6-4, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 to take a 7-4 lead in this entertaining head-to-head series.

Although Djokovic is the favorite on paper as a 17-time Grand Slam champion, it is Thiem who heads into the semis as a London group winner. The world No. 4 prevailed in Group B with impressive wins over Stefanos Tsitsipas and Rafael Nadal before losing in meaningless fashion to Andrey Rublev.

Thus continues a breakthrough performance on hard courts over the past two seasons. In 2019, Thiem captured the Indian Wells title and upset Nadal en route to the U.S. Open semis. The 27-year-old won the U.S. Open this summer for his first slam title and he is now back in the London semis after finishing runner-up to Tsitsipas last fall.

Djokovic was unconvincing in three round-robin matches, but he did enough to qualify thanks to victories over Diego Schwartzman and Alexander Zverev. In between the 33-year-old Serb got crushed by Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 6-3.

Although Djokovic’s level improved on Friday, he still doesn’t look overly motivated with the year-end No. 1 ranking already secured. Even when Djokovic was in slightly better form last year at this tournament, Thiem still took him down in dramatic fashion. This is another great opportunity for the world No. 3, who has clearly reinvented himself on this surface.

Pick: Thiem in 3

Daniil Medvedev hasn’t beaten his Nitto ATP Finals semi-final opponent, Rafael Nadal, in three ATP Head2Head clashes.

(1A) Daniil Medvedev vs. (2B) Rafael Nadal

Nadal and Medvedev will be going head-to-head for the fourth time in their careers. Their round-robin showdown last fall was a memorable one, as Nadal stormed back from a 5-1 deficit in the third set to prevail 6-7(3), 6-3, 7-6(4)–although both men ended up missing out on a semifinal spot. That improved the Spaniard’s record against Medvedev to 3-0 lifetime. Their previous encounter was even more of a thriller. In a famous 2019 U.S. Open final, Nadal held off a furious charge by the Russian to triumph 7-5, 6-3, 5-7, 4-6, 6-4.

The world No. 4 has clearly learned from last year’s performance inside the O2 Arena, where he went winless in round-robin competition. It also helps that this time around he did not play six consecutive finals during the stretch run of the season. Far more rested in 2020 than he was in 2019, Medvedev won the Paris Masters two weeks ago and so far in London he has erased both Diego Schwartzman and Novak Djokovic in straight sets.

Nadal was also outstanding in round-robin play. His only loss came against Dominic Thiem in what is the best match of the tournament to date. The world No. 2 also picked up wins over Andrey Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas, the latter via a 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 decision in a winner-take-all battle on Thursday.

He will have to be just as good if not better against an in-form Medvedev. The 24-year-old should have won even though he was in far worse shape than is at the moment. He has been incredible this week and as good as Nadal has been it is no sure thing that the 34-year-old can play four great matches in a row on an indoor hard court.

Pick: Medvedev in 3

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