Having made a good start to the ATP Finals, our tennis man Andy Schooler is back to preview Thursday’s matches at London’s O2 Arena.
Rafael Nadal v Stefanos Tsitsipas (2000 GMT)
This is a de facto quarter-final with the winner going through to the last four as group runner-up.
Of the two, Nadal’s level has looked the higher across the two matches so far.
His clash with Dominic Thiem on Tuesday was top quality and, despite losing in straight sets, the Spaniard could easily have won. He led the first set tie-break 5-2 and was also a break of serve ahead at 4-3 in the second set.
The man himself was happy with his performance, stating afterwards: “The only negative thing [is that] I was not able to convert some key points that made the biggest difference in the whole match.”
Nadal has lost serve only once so far (and faced just two break points) with his game looking in fine working order.
He leads the head-to-head against Tsitsipas 5-1 with their only previous meeting on indoor hard being on this court 12 months ago – Nadal won 7-5 in the third.
However, that is the only set Tsitsipas has won against Nadal on a hard surface and I expect he’ll have to play second fiddle again here.
Nadal’s forehand will drag the Greek around the court and Tsitsipas’ footwork hasn’t been the greatest this week – he’s often found himself in the slightly wrong position to hit a shot and errors have resulted.
Tsitsipas spoke after his narrow win over Andrey Rublev that he would need to be “more solid” than Nadal to win this match but few do that and, based on what I’ve seen so far, I doubt it will happen.
Nadal hardly screams value at 4/9 but a straight-sets success at 6/5 makes a bit more appeal.
For something longer, a return to the first-set tie-break market may just reward.
That was the outcome in their first set here last season and serve has largely held sway in this group this week.
I’ve already mentioned Nadal’s single loss of serve, but Tsitsipas hasn’t fared much worse – he’s lost his delivery only twice. On return, both men only managed to break Thiem once too, neither break coming in the opening set.
I can see another tight opener and 3/1 about it going the distance looks slightly big.
Dominic Thiem v Andrey Rublev (1400 GMT)
I’ve always been a fan of this tournament’s round-robin format but it’s one downside is it can result in a dead rubber and that’s the case here.
Thiem has already won the group and Rublev can’t qualify for the semi-finals so there’s nothing at stake here bar 200 ranking points and some cash. Neither will mean a great deal to these two.
Thiem has played splendidly so far in beating Stefanos Tsitsipas and Rafael Nadal and is a worthy favourite to make it three out of three.
However, I think it’s significant that he was in a very similar situation at this event last season and on that occasion lost his dead rubber with Matteo Berrettini in straight sets.
Like this contest, it also took place on the Thursday so there was no real concern about tiredness which would be the case with the Friday-Saturday turnaround which the other group has to deal with.
Rublev has shown what he’s capable of, at times, and, after being outplayed early on, he really should have beaten Tsitsipas on Tuesday but a double fault on match point cost him dearly.
The Russian beat Thiem 7-6 6-2 in Vienna only last month and has now won their last two meetings (the overall head-to-head is level at 2-2).
He’s certainly not without a chance here and with history suggesting Thiem could ease up a tad, there may be some value in backing the underdog.
Despite that rest day to come, Thiem seems unlikely to want a three-set war, especially after two fairly long matches already, so if you are backing Rublev, getting with him to win in straight sets makes sense.
That’s on offer at 3/1.
I’m not a big fan of betting on matches which don’t really matter but on this occasion, I’ll have a small play at the price.
Posted at 1135 GMT on 18/11/20
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