The star-studded field of eight champions has been reduced to two at the Nitto ATP Finals, with Novak Djokovic and Casper Ruud still facing the title bout on Sunday. In addition to the Turin trophy, both men are playing for an important milestone in their respective careers.
Djokovic is seeking his sixth Nitto ATP Finals crown, a mark that would tie Roger Federer for the tournament record. The 35-year-old can also become the oldest champion at the season finale, following the then-30-year-old Federer’s victory in London in 2011. By claiming the title as undefeated champion, Djokovic would walk away with a record winnings of more than $4. 7 million, as well as 1,500 Pepperstone ATP Rankings points.
Ruud – nine-time TBEN champion – is chasing his first ‘major title’ after falling just short in the finals of Miami, Roland Garros and the US Open this year. The 23-year-old had already moved up one place this week to No. 3 in the world in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings, but could bounce back to No. 2 and come within 500 points of Carlos Alcaraz at the pinnacle of the men’s game with another win .
A win would give both men a big chance to pass the Spaniard early in the 2023 season, with neither Djokovic nor Ruud defending points at the Australian Open.
Who will win Sunday’s final?
Djokovic in straight sets
Djokovic in three sets
Ruud in two sets
Ruud in three sets
Despite his high ranking, Ruud still feels like the underdog against Djokovic, who himself moved up three places this week to No. 5 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. The Norwegian has yet to win a set in three previous encounters with the former world number 1, including a 7-6(4), 6-2 defeat in the group stage against Turin last year. But Ruud has good hopes of breaking that trend against the reigning Wimbledon champion on Sunday.
“He’s a player who doesn’t have many weaknesses at all,” he said of his last opponent. ‘But he’s human. He lost to Rune in the 2 weeks ago [Rolex Paris Masters] last. It’s not like he plays these finals every day of his career, in his life. I’m sure he’ll feel a little pressure too. Much is at stake.”
Having watched Djokovic win his five previous year-end titles on TV, Ruud is now able to avoid winning No. 6. matches against Daniil Medvedev and Taylor Fritz.
“He’s played a little more tennis than I have,” said Ruud after a dominant 6-2, 6-4 semi-final win over Andrey Rublev. “I don’t know if he will feel tired – probably not. But this is the perfect way for me to go into the final. I hope I can save some of this great tennis for tomorrow and see what happens.”
Just like he did against Rublev, Ruud will try to use his high-RPM forehand to dictate rallies against Djokovic. The Norwegian’s tactics for his semi-final victory focused on attacking the Rublev backhand. On Sunday, Djokovic can use the same game plan against Ruud.
According to the finalists’ INSIGHTS Shot Quality scores – which take into account a variety of stats to rate strokes on a 10-point scale – the backhand is where Djokovic has the greatest advantage in this matchup. With both men characterized as ‘Solid Baseliners’ by the analysis, the title match will be won by the player who better executes that style on the day.
Specifically for this week in Turin, the stats are even more encouraging for Djokovic, with his forehand scoring a field-leading 8.91 in the Pala Alpitour. The Serb also leads the eight Turin qualifiers this week in Steal Score and Return Quality, with Ruud second in forehand and third in Steal rate.
In addition to stealing 37.1 percent of the defense’s points this week, Djokovic has played nearly 25 percent of his shots In Attack during the 2022 Nitto ATP Finals, and converted 73.6 percent of the points in which he made a gained an offensive advantage.
All of that has translated into a seventh tour-level final of the season for Djokovic.
“I was looking forward to being in this position,” said the seventh seed after his 7-6(5), 7-6(6) win against Fritz on Saturday. “I’m very happy to be competing for another major trophy, one of the biggest we have in our sport.”
Although he admitted to feeling “heavy legs” and a “lack of responsiveness” against the American, Djokovic managed things without his very best tennis. He knows that nothing less than excellence will be enough against Ruud in the final.
“Of course I would really like to win the trophy, but I won’t be the only player who wants it on the pitch,” Djokovic said during his post-match press conference. “Hopefully I can play at the level where I played most games this week and take a trophy.”
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It would come as no surprise if Djokovic ends his season with the title after his strong run to Turin. The Serb posted a 13-1 record in his past three TBEN events, winning trophies in Tel Aviv and Astana before reaching the Rolex Paris Masters Final. His four titles this season also include triumphs at Wimbledon and Rome.
Ruud’s progress in Turin has been less predictable – similar to his breakaway season, which the Norwegian has taken even him by surprise. After his run to the US Open final, Ruud dropped to a 2-4 record in four TBEN tournaments before rediscovering his form in Turin.
“I think when the draw was made here I think I was the least favorite to reach the final; I think I can say it with certainty, compared to all the other big players who I think might be better indoor hard court players than myself.” ”, said Ruud after reaching the title match. “There are small margins in this sport. I managed to get through, to fight, to be in the final, so I’m very happy with it.”