10sBalls.com

Ricky’s Picks For The 2021 Year-End Rankings And The Nitto ATP Tennis Finals Field In Milan

By Ricky Dimon

Nobody was there to see it, but the 2020 Nitto ATP Finals were wildly entertaining. Last year’s tournament was the grand finale at the O2 Arena in London before it moves to Turin, Italy starting in 2021.

Who will be the eight participants at the new venue this coming November? Will Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal continue to dominate the rankings and steal the top two seeds in Turin? Are Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas—the most recent year-end championship winners—poised to take the next step? Can U.S. Open champion Dominic Thiem (also the runner-up at the last two Nitto ATP Finals in London) make a push for No. 1? Those questions—and more—will soon be answered; so it’s time to predict the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals eight-man field…in order.



1. Novak Djokovic – Djokovic finished No. 1 in 2020 for a record-tying sixth time and did so with room to spare. The 33-year-old Serb would have done so even more convincingly had it not been for the infamous U.S. Open fourth-round default. Djokovic wore out mentally down the stretch just a bit, but the offseason and what should be a less tumultuous 2021 campaign will have him rejuvenated. Djokovic is the best player in the world right now and he is still in his prime, so there is no reason to think anything will change in the rankings.



2. Dominic Thiem – With a Grand Slam title finally under his belt (2020 U.S. Open), it should only be full steam ahead for Thiem in 2021. The third-ranked Austrian is the second-best player in the world on clay and he has become even more successful on hard courts than on the slow stuff, so outside of a few weeks on grass he can contend for huge titles at every tournament in which he participates. Thiem has reached the final at three of the four slams in his career and twice in a row at the Nitto ATP Finals. The 27-year-old thrives on the big stage, which is obviously where he can gain the most ranking points.



3. Daniil Medvedev – I predicted a “sophomore slump” for Medvedev following his breakout 2019, leaving him out of the 2020 London field. If not for the restructured ranking system, that call was right on the money until the Russian captured the Paris Masters title from completely out of nowhere. Needless to say, I am—surely along with everyone else—totally back on the Medvedev bandwagon. The 24-year-old wrapped up this past season on a 10-match winning streak by rolling through Paris and London, thus inspiring a ton of confidence for his 2021 campaign. Medvedev isn’t strong enough on clay (nor on grass, for that matter) to surpass Djokovic and Thiem, but the No. 3 ranking is well within reach.



4. Rafael Nadal – Given that Nadal is one year older (34) and has more wear and tear on his body, he is not quite in his prime to the same extent as Djokovic. That’s not to say the Spaniard is over the hill by any means, but it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see him scale back on his schedule in hopes of preserving his health—a la Roger Federer in recent seasons. Of course, a typical clay-court haul (including a likely 14th French Open triumph in 2021) by itself would probably be enough to keep Nadal on the top four. There may be a minor decline, but to be perfectly clear I think he will be a lot closer to No. 2 than to No. 5.



5. Stefanos Tsitsipas – Thiem, Medvedev, and Alexander Zverev have surpassed Tsitsipas in terms of reaching at least one Grand Slam final (in Thiem’s case reaching many and also winning one). Keep in mind, though, that Tsitsipas is younger than all of those guys at 22 years old. In fact, he is the youngest man in the top 11. The world No. 6 made a run to the 2020 French Open semifinals after trailing Jaume Munar two sets to love in round one and he came within one set of completing a comeback from 2-0 down against Djokovic in the semis. Stellar on all three surfaces, Tsitsipas can rack up tons of ranking points week in and week out.



6. Andrey Rublev – The only good thing that happened in 2020 was my prediction for Rublev to have a Texas-sized year coming true. And saying it merely came true would be a gross understatement. The 23-year-old Russian led the entire tour with five titles while compiling an incredible 41-10 record. He is up to No. 8 in the world and he would be ranked even higher based on 2020 points alone. In other words, it won’t require much improvement at all for him to climb a couple more spots and reach No. 6. I’m not sure Rublev is ready for a Grand Slam breakthrough, but consistent winning on all surfaces and at all tiers of tournaments should see him remain in the top 10 with ease.



7. Roberto Bautista Agut – It’s kind of amazing that Bautista Agut has never qualified for the YEC or even played a match there as an alternate. Sure he does not have the weapons that allow him to seriously trouble the best players in the game and Grand Slams have been his Waterloo (with a few exceptions, such as a Wimbledon semifinal appearance in 2019), but the 32-year-old has been hanging around the top 10 for almost a decade now. RBA basically never gets injured and he has at least a few more seasons in the prime of his career. This upcoming one could be his best season ever.



8. Alexander Zverev – Zverev always seems to have a lot on his plate off the court, and 2021 will be no exception. His tennis has never really been impacted by off-court issues, but at some point you have to think it will be in some shape or form. That combined with his well-documented serving woes could make it difficult for the 23-year-old German to enjoy the same level of consistency for a full season as the guys ahead of him on this list are capable of displaying. I’m tempted to drop Zverev entirely out of the Milan field, but his sheer talent and the relative lack of other top-eight contenders may allow him to qualify.



Alternates


9. Denis Shapovalov – I had Shapovalov making the 2020 field and for a while that looked like a decent pick, but the rankings restructuring and a late-season slump ended his hopes well short of the final destination. The 21-year-old Canadian can get closer this time around with more experience under his belt. Strictly from a talent standpoint, Shapovalov has top 10 written all over him. This may be the year it all comes together for a full 10/11 months.



10. Pablo Carreno Busta – Carreno Busta is right up there with the most underrated players on tour; he might even be the leader of that pack, in fact. I have never made that mistake and am not about to make it in 2021. Sure the 29-year-old Spaniard got a big assist from Djokovic at the U.S. Open, but he deserves every bit of his current No. 16 ranking. He would actually be ranked higher if other guys around him didn’t get to keep so many of their points from 2019 (which was a mediocre season for him). PCB has played in the YEC as an alternate before and he may be in the mix again for Milan.

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