ATP Finals Filled With Plenty Of Legacy And History, Just Ask Djokovic

2023 Nitto ATP Finals line-up (photo: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

TURIN/WASHINGTON, November 12, 2023 (by Michael Dickens)

The 54th edition of the Nitto ATP Finals – and the third one at the “magic box” Pala Alpitour in Turin – begins Sunday with reigning champion and six-time winner World No. 1 Novak Djokovic making his 16th tournament appearance against first-time qualifier Holger Rune.

Djokovic comes into his opening Green Group match riding an 18-match winning streak and hoping to create some magic of own. A week ago, he won his seventh Rolex Paris Masters title. Now, in Turin, the 36-year-old Serbian has his sights set on finishing the 2023 tennis season as Year-End No. 1 for a record-extending eighth time.

For me, the biggest goal right now is to end the season as the No. 1 player in the world, so hopefully I can clinch it. I need one win, so hopefully that happens,” Djokovic said Friday in Turin, during an interview session with ATP Media. “And then of course, I would love to win the tournament as well. But that’s the goal and then let’s see what happens afterwards.”

In order for Djokovic to end the season as the No. 1 player in the world, he merely needs to win one match or No. 2 Carlos Alcaraz of Spain lose one match this week. Djokovic last finished year-end No. 1 in 2021.

Djokovic (51-5, 6 titles in 2023) opens his title defense Sunday evening against No. 8 Rune of Denmark (43-22, 1 title), whom he recently defeated in the quarterfinal round at the Paris Masters.

“I love the sport. That’s my greatest motivation really, because I’ve made a lot of records, I’ve broken a lot of records and it’s great,” Djokovic said. “But even if I leave professional tennis now and reflect on everything I’ve done, I can be extremely, extremely satisfied. So, I don’t have a pressure to keep on competing, but I still have desire and still have the level.

“I’m playing at a very high level, so records are there obviously as a huge inspiration as well, no doubt, and history of the sport. I still want to create my own history and history of tennis and see how far I can go.”

Meanwhile, the Sunday day session begins with No. 4 Jannik Sinner of Italy (57-14, 4 titles) facing 2019 Nitto ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece (51-22, 1 title), ranked sixth, who owns a 5-2 career head-to-head advantage, including 2-1 on hard courts.

The Red Group, which begins play on Monday, features Alcaraz, No. 3 Daniil Medvedev of Russia, No. 5 Andrey Rublev of Russia and No. 7 Alexander Zverev of Germany. In his ATP Finals debut, Alcaraz (63-10, 6 titles) will open against Zverev (53-26, 2 titles) in the afternoon session, while Medvedev (64-16, 5 titles) and Rublev (56-23, 2 titles) will square off in an all-Russian affair in the evening.

“I’m expecting the Carlos from early this year, despite the results I’ve had in recent tournaments,” said Alcaraz, whose most recent title victory came at Wimbledon. “The defeat in Paris, which was quite painful, made me realize that I have to work harder,” he added, speaking of his recent ATP Masters 1000 loss against Roman Safiullin.

“And that’s what I’ve done. You always have to look for the positive in things. I’ve had several days to train to come here in optimum form. I’ve worked hard, on both fitness and tennis. I feel really good.”

Around the Pala Altour

This year’s Nitto ATP Finals doubles field is quite strong with three teams each with five titles this season. All of them are in the Green Group: No. 1 Ivan Dodig of Croatia and American Austin Krajicek, No. 4 Santiago Gonzalez of Mexico and France’s Edouard Roger-Vasselin, and No. 7 Maximo Gonzalez and Andres Molteni, both of Argentina. Second seeds Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands and Neal Skupski of Great Britain leads the Red Group. The reigning champions are No. 6 Rajeev Ram of the United States and Joe Salisbury of Great Britain.

Meanwhile, four teams are making their Nitto ATP Finals debut: No. 3 Rohan Bopanna of India and Australia’s Matthew Ebden; Santiago Gonzalez and Roger-Vasselin; Maximo Gonzalez and Molteni along with Australian Open champions Rinky Hijikata and Jason Kubler, both from Australia. All but Bopanna and Roger-Vasselin are appearing in their season finale debut.

Who wins the Year-End No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Doubles Team Rankings, which is up for grabs with five teams in contention, is any one’s guess. No. 1 Dodig/Krajicek have 6,330 points and No. 5 Marcel Granollers of Spain and Argentina’s Horacio Zeballos have 5,127 points. There are 1,500 points available if a team goes undefeated (5-0). The year-end No. 1 individual ranking is also at stake with eight players all having a mathematical shot. No. 1 Krajicek has 7,120 points and No. 8 Bopanna has 5,990 points. Bopanna, at 43, is the oldest player to participate in Nitto ATP Finals history (since 1970).

Sunday’s Nitto ATP Finals order of play

By the numbers

Fellow 20-year-olds Carlos Alcaraz and Holger Rune are making their first appearance in the Nitto ATP Finals. They are the first 20-and-under duo to participate in the season finale since 2000 Lisbon where Lleyton Hewitt (19) and Marat Safin (20) made their debut. Alcaraz qualified last year but withdrew due to injury.

“Quotable …”

“I’m happy to be here. Happy that this event is here in Turin. Hopefully it’s something positive for me trying to have a great connection with the crowd and hopefully I can handle it and handle the situation with the right mentality, because I feel I have a little bit more pressure, which is a very positive sign for me.

“I love to play under pressure. I love to play tie-breaks; I love to play the important points because I feel like there you can see who has what kind of game. And I feel like I’m trying to find as many important points as possible. Also because this makes you grow and also I’m here trying to win, but also to add some experience package for the next tournaments.”

Jannik Sinner of Italy, interviewed by ATP Media on Friday, looking ahead to his opening match against Stefanos Tsitsipas.