Novak Djokovic has been outstanding this year but has slipped drastically in best-of-three matches. His chances for a 6th ATP Finals title might not be very high this time around.
It’s not often you hear the words ‘Novak Djokovic’ and ‘longshot’ in the same sentence together; they’ve likely never been uttered together in the history of the English language. Spoiler alert: I’m not going to make history and do so, but in regards to next week’s 2020 season finale in London, we’re going to be as close as we’re ever going to get to finally hear it.
Djokovic’s incredible start to the year that saw him win his first 31 matches in a row before losing to Pablo Carreno Busta at the US Open had everyone believing there was no stopping the World No. 1. After his victory in Rome, those thoughts have only been compounded. Much has changed since the French Open, however. While he has kept winning (currently sitting at 39-3 for the season), it seems as though his level of play has significantly dropped in one regard: best-of-three matches.
There’s no denying that, in a best-of-five setting, Djokovic is the clear favorite. His ability to push through down the stretch with his athleticism and laser focus is unrivaled. However, a worrying trend has come up at times this year and could be exposed during next week’s ATP Finals. Djokovic has just one loss all season during a best-of-three match but it was a confusing one at that His 6-2, 6-1 defeat at the hands of Lorenzo Sonego in Vienna was all of his apparent struggles coming to fruition. In comparison to a best-of-five match, consistency and being able to outlast your opponent isn’t as large of an advantage, if any at all.
Big serves and/or fiery ground game have both been seen to give Djokovic a heap of trouble over the last few months. He had to come back from a set down against both Roberto Bautista Agut (a consistent baseliner not prone to making mistakes) and Milos Raonic (a huge server that is aided by faster hard courts) in order to win the title in ‘Cincinnati’. Moving onto Rome, Djokovic once again came back from a set down against Dominik Koepfer in the quarterfinals (currently the ATP World No. 61), who possesses a powerful game from the baseline and solid touch around the net to top it all off.
Moving into the Sonego match, the Italian controlled the match in all phases. He was consistent on his serve and effective on winning points off of it. He also used his great baseline game to rip through Djokovic’s second serve (16-of-23 points won).
It’s clear that Djokovic can win any match the longer it goes on, but a shortened best-of-three format might just be his undoing. Keep in mind, the players he struggled with aren’t near the level of his upcoming opponents. Outside of a key advantage or two, Djokovic is worlds better. Heading into London, however, he’ll be up against seven of the best players in the world. Big servers, vicious groundstrokes, and defensive masterminds all sit waiting for the World No. 1 and could easily take advantage of his recent dip in play.
As we’ve seen countless times, the longer he’s around, the more dangerous he becomes. With the best interests of his opponents, the time to strike is as soon as possible. If he sticks around into the semifinals, he’ll surely be back to his old self, ready to take his 6th ATP Finals title.
The ATP Finals begin November 15th in London with a round-robin stage. The four top competitors will move on to the single-elimination semifinals for a shot at men’s tennis’ premier event.