Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the 2021 Nitto ATP Finals.
The weeks come and go, but they remain similar in nature.
Here we were just last week (sort of) praising the powers that be in international tennis for the singular fact that they had successfully created a tennis calendar where, each year, the bigger and most meaningful events aren’t overlapping with one another too often. That last week, with two events as meaningful as the Next Gen Finals and the WTA Finals unfolding at once on the women’s and men’s tours, was merely an exception to the rule.
Well, we are back this week. All eyes are on the Nitto ATP Finals, and nothing but the Nitto ATP Finals. This is a good thing: over the next few days, men’s tennis will crown its champion of all champions for the 2021 season. In light of this, we’re thinking of running a little overview of the competitors in action in Turin this week.
Nitto ATP Finals
The favourites: Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev. There is no other way around it. Daniil Medvedev and Novak Djokovic are the two absolute, absolute clear favourites. They have been the two standout players from this 2021 season, with the Russian ending Djokovic’s bid at the calendar-year Grand Slam in winning his first major title of his career. The Serb, meanwhile, stands as the clear-cut choice for the best men’s tennis player in history and, at 34 years of age, shows no sign of slowing down.
The dark horse competitors: Hubert Hurkacz and Alexander Zverev. Look, we’re about to come clean here: for all his faults, both personal and otherwise, Alexander Zverev has had a good previous 18 months. From the 2020 Tokyo Olympics gold medal to a US Open final and two other Grand Slam semifinals, life is good for the German. (And it’s maddening.) After a Wimbledon semifinal, life is similarly good for Hubert Hurkacz, who’s somehow parlayed an 84-75 career record into his place as the No. 9-ranked player in the world.
The “happy to be here” competitors: Stefanos Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud. Both players here are happy to have made it to Italy, but for entirely different reasons. Casper Ruud is the young Norwegian upstart who’s currently in the thick of the hottest of hot streaks. We’ve thought about slotting him into the next category, but this one will do. Meanwhile, Stefanos Tsitsipas is happy to be here in the sense that he’s happy this godforsaken season, where he lost a two-set lead in a dang Roland-Garros final, is coming to an end. Let’s end things for 2021, regroup and try again next year.
The “see you next year,” competitor: Matteo Berrettini. The Italian had always flashed great stuff and potential but, save for a 2019 US Open semifinal, had never quite put it together. After making the fourth round at the Australian Open, the quarterfinals at the French Open and US Open, as well as the Wimbledon final, it’s safe to say that this year he did. Matteo Berrettini has turned potential into actual, concrete results. The future is bright for Italian tennis.
Andrey Rublev: Andrey Rublev. Every generation of men’s tennis, seemingly, has their version of this consistent, calm and steady force. Think of players like Tim Henman, Tomas Berdych, Gael Monfils, or David Ferrer. They’re mainstays at or near the top of their sport, just about every time winning the matches they’re supposed to win and losing the matches they’re supposed to lose.
It still might be a little early to say this about him, but Andrey Rublev might fit the bill here. He’s good to great every time he steps on a tennis court, and he stands to remain this talented and gifted for a long, long time. But even on his best days, Rublev is a rung or three below the absolute best.
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG