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Ricky’s Torino Tennis Preview and Pick for Wednesday at the Nitto ATP Finals: Djokovic vs. Rublev

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic faces Andrey Rublev at the Nitto ATP Finals tennis tournament in Turin on Wednesday. EPA-EFE/Alessandro Di Marco

By Ricky Dimon

Somehow, Novak Djokovic and Andrey Rublev have never faced each other heading into their round-robin contest at the Nitto ATP Finals on Wednesday.

The good news for Rublev is that his first-ever meeting with the world No. 1 is not a must-win situation–not even close. Both players are 1-0 so far in Turin and Rublev will likely be in decent shape to qualify for the semifinals even if he loses this one. The fifth-ranked Russian improved to 49-20 with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Stefanos Tsitsipas on Monday.

Djokovic kicked off his bid for a sixth year-end championship title by beating Casper Ruud 7-6(4), 6-2. Thus continued a perfect–albeit abbreviated–fall swing for the top-seeded Serb. He took some time off after coming up short of the calendar-year Grand Slam at the U.S. Open but is 5-0 since, including a title at the Paris Masters (beat Daniil Medvedev in the final).

“The conditions here are quite tough,” Djokovic said after defeating Ruud. “If you lose your serve, it is difficult to get it back. But I managed to stay in (it). I am very pleased with the way I handled the match.

“Casper started strong. He was serving well. The altitude, fast court, fast balls…it favors big servers. I knew he had a solid serve, but maybe not as good as Medvedev or (Alexander) Zverev. He did positively surprise me with this serve, particularly in the first set. I just managed to read it better in the second set. But it was a close one.”

Andrey Rublev beat Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in his Nitto ATP Finals opener. EPA-EFE/Alessandro Di Marco

Rublev was serving like John Isner against Tsitsipas, but in general the serve is not his greatest strength. Somewhat of a regression to the norm should be expected on Wednesday, especially against an opponent who is a much better returner than Tsitsipas. Rublev will likely go for more on his first serve and that could lead to a weaker percentage, resulting in a lot of what is the biggest liability in his game: second serves.

This should be an entertaining and also high-quality matchup between Rublev’s huge forehand and Djokovic’s defense. But in the end a clear edge likely goes to the favorite.

Pick: Djokovic in 2

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