At one point it looked like the ATP Finals was set to feature a showdown between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal in the final, but their respective semi-final opponents had other ideas. Daniil Medvedev took Nadal all the way to a third set and triumphed over the Spaniard to reach the London final for the second year running. Meanwhile, Austrian Dominic Thiem edged an intensely close battle with Djokovic to reach the final also, setting up a high-quality final in its own right, but perhaps not the one the public expected.
Medvedev won the event for the first time, but there is a sense that both Nadal and Djokovic will have been kicking themselves for not going one step further than they did. Tennis players are competitive beasts, with a desire to win every competition set before them, and both Nadal and Djokovic are both eager to cement their legacy in the sport with as many tournament victories as possible.
Perhaps it could prove that the pair are saving their best for the Australian Open, which is now edging closer. Every will list Djokovic and Nadal among the top favourites, you would imagine, and both will be eager to add another Grand Slam title to their name. With his win at the French Open back in October, Nadal drew level with Roger Federer on 20 Grand Slam titles – a remarkable number, but he’ll have designs on bettering the Swiss player and moving clear at the top of the list.
Djokovic, meanwhile, sits a bit further back on 17, and he’ll be eager to put some recent disappointments behind him when he heads to Melbourne. Of course, Djokovic goes to the Australian Open as the defending champion, having won it back in January of 2020, but a handful of unsavoury incidents since have somewhat soured the Serbian’s year. His at-times lax attitude towards the Covid-19 pandemic raised eyebrows among many, before his controversial default at the US Open for hitting a line-judge with a ball struck in anger sent shockwaves throughout the tennis worlds. Then, a crushing defeat to Nadal in the French Open final compounded a disappointing few months for Djokovic.
He’ll be eager to get back to his best when he begins his defence at the Australian Open, and while he’ll be disappointed not to have got his hands on another ATP Finals title, the reality was that his semi-final against Thiem was an incredibly tight encounter, and unfortunately he came out on the losing side, when it could’ve swung either way. He’ll use that defeat as motivation going forward, and you can bet he’ll be in his groove at the Australian Open, a tournament he has won an impressive eight times previously.
Nadal, meanwhile, will be on a mission to prove that he still has what it takes to win Grand Slams on surfaces other than clay. One of the criticisms levelled at him is that so many of his 20 Grand Slams have come at the French Open, and he hasn’t displayed the same dominance across the other three big events. While most recognise his supreme achievements, the Spaniard will still be keen to silence any doubters and move out on his own on 21 Grand Slam titles.