The star-studded field of eight champions has been trimmed to two at the Nitto ATP Finals, with Novak Djokovic and Casper Ruud still standing to contest Sunday’s title match. In addition to the Turin trophy, both men are playing for a major milestone in their respective careers.
Djokovic is seeking his sixth Nitto ATP Finals crown, a mark which would match Roger Federer for the tournament record. The 35-year-old can also become the oldest champion at the season finale, after the then-30-year-old Federer’s London triumph in 2011. By claiming the title as an undefeated champion, Djokovic would walk away with a record payday of more than $4.7 million, as well as 1,500 Pepperstone ATP Rankings points.
Ruud — a nine-time ATP Tour champion — is hunting his first ‘Big Title’ after falling just short in the finals at Miami, Roland Garros and the US Open this year. Already up one place to World No. 3 in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings this week, the 23-year-old could return to No. 2 and move within 500 points of Carlos Alcaraz at the pinnacle of the men’s game with another victory.
A victory would set either man up with a strong chance at passing the Spaniard early in the 2023 season, with neither Djokovic nor Ruud defending points at the Australian Open.
Who wins Sunday’s final?
Djokovic in two sets
Djokovic in three sets
Ruud in two sets
Ruud in three sets
Despite his lofty ranking, Ruud still feels like the underdog against Djokovic, who has moved up three places himself to No. 5 this week in the Pepperstone ATP Live Rankings. The Norwegian has yet to win a set in three previous meetings with the former World No. 1, including a 7-6(4), 6-2 defeat last year in the Turin group stage. But Ruud has high hopes of breaking that trend on Sunday against the reigning Wimbledon champion.
“He’s a player that doesn’t have many weaknesses at all,” he said of his final opponent. “But he is human. He lost two weeks ago to Rune in the [Rolex Paris Masters] final. It’s not like he plays these finals every day of his career, in his life. I’m sure he will also feel a little bit of pressure. There’s a lot on the line.”
Having watched Djokovic win his five previous year-end titles on TV, Ruud is now in position to stop him from gaining No. 6. He will be hoping that fitness becomes a factor, with Djokovic entering his third match in as many days after gruelling contests against Daniil Medvedev and Taylor Fritz.
“He’s played a little bit more tennis than I have,” Ruud said after a dominant 6-2, 6-4 semi-final win against 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.”
As he did against Rublev, Ruud will seek to use his high-RPM forehand to dictate the rallies against Djokovic. The Norwegian’s tactics for his semi-final win centred on attacking the Rublev backhand. On Sunday, Djokovic may employ the same game plan against Ruud.
According to the finalists’ INSIGHTS Shot Quality scores — which factor in a variety of metrics to grade strokes on a 10-point scale — the backhand is where Djokovic holds the biggest edge in this matchup. With both men characterised as ‘Solid Baseliners’ by the analysis, the title match will be won by the player who executes that style better on the day.
Specific to this week in Turin, the statistics are even more encouraging for Djokovic, with his forehand rated a field-leading 8.91 at the Pala Alpitour. The Serbian also leads the eight Turin qualifiers in Steal Score and Return Quality this week, with Ruud graded second on the forehand and third in Steal rate.
In addition to stealing 37.1 per cent of points from defence this week, Djokovic has played nearly 25 per cent of his shots In Attack at the 2022 Nitto ATP Finals, and he has converted 73.6 per cent of points in which he has gained an offensive advantage.
All of that has translated to a seventh tour-level final of the season for Djokovic.
“I was looking forward to being in this position,” the seventh seed said after his 7-6(5), 7-6(6) win against Fritz on Saturday. “I’m very happy to be able to compete for another big trophy, one of the biggest ones that we have in our sport.”
While he admitted to feeling “heavy legs” and a “lack of reactivity” against the American, Djokovic took care of business without his very best tennis. He knows nothing short of excellence will be enough against Ruud in the final.
“I would love to, of course, win the trophy, but I’m not going to be the only player who is going to want that on the court,” Djokovic said in his post-match press conference. “Hopefully I’ll be able to play at the level that I’ve played most of the matches this week and get a trophy.”
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It would come as no surprise to see Djokovic ending his season with the title after his strong lead-in to Turin. The Serbian posted a 13-1 record in his past three ATP Tour 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 in Rome.
Ruud’s progress in Turin was less predictable — similar to his breakout season, which the Norwegian has admitted surprised even him. After his run to the US Open final, Ruud slumped to a 2-4 record in four ATP Tour tournaments before rediscovering his form in Turin.
“I think when the draw was made here, I guess I was the least favourite to reach the final; I think I can say for sure, compared to all the other great players who I consider are maybe better hard-court indoor players than myself,” Ruud said after reaching the title match. “There are small margins in this sport. I’ve been able to come through, fight through, be in the final, so I’m very happy about it.”