Will it be six for Novak, or seven for Roger? That’s the chief question hanging over the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals.
While a half dozen other players will compete hard, it would be some shock if the trophy left London for a destination other than Basel or Djokovic’s adopted home, Monte-Carlo.
The pair’s chances have ticked up due to some noteworthy absences. Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka were never in the running to make the O2, but Juan Martin del Potro and Rafael Nadal are recent casualties.
The Argentine fractured a patella in Shanghai, while the Spaniard ended his season prematurely due to a combination of ailments. Kei Nishikori and John Isner take their spots in the field, but are unlikely to pose similar challenges to the fallen. The remaining four places go to Alexander Zverev, Kevin Anderson, Marin Cilic and Dominic Thiem.
The draw was made on Monday evening with the eight players divided into two groups: Group Guga Kuerten (Djokovic, Zverev, Cilic & Isner) and Group Lleyton Hewitt (Federer, Anderson, Thiem & Nishikori).
Novak Djokovic – 8/13
Holder of the no.1 ranking and back-to-back major winner; the elastic 31-year-old is once again top dog. The elbow problem of 2017/early 2018 seems long gone as Djokovic looks as strong, consistent and focused as you remember. The Serb is a five-time champion here and has a solid-to-obscene head-to-head record against Cilic (16-2), Isner (8-2) and Zverev (1-1).
Alexander Zverev – 12/1
It’s the second Finals appearance for Alexander Zverev who has had a mixed season given lofty expectations. The 21-year-old has added three titles to his CV in 2018 with triumphs in Madrid, Munich and Washington. However, the grand slam format is still a major obstacle for him. Zverev has a good record against Cilic (5-2) and Isner (4-1), but only snatched three games from Djokovic in China last month.
Marin Cilic – 12/1
The Croat’s power can overwhelm opponents, but we haven’t seen the best of him at ATP Finals past. He has not made it past the group stage here with one victory from nine matches played. The Australian Open finalist could end up with the wooden spoon again as he tends to struggle against Djokovic and Zverev, while Isner has won three of their last four encounters.
John Isner – 25/1
The 33-year-old replaces Nadal in the field making him the third-oldest Finals debutant in ATP history. The American has enjoyed the finest season of his career with a maiden Masters 1000 title in Miami and semi-final run at Wimbledon the highlights. After a long season, I have a sneaky feeling that Isner could get the better of Cilic and Zverev and finish second behind Djokovic.
Roger Federer – 9/4
You’d love some silly Federer stats now, wouldn’t you? Well…this is his 16th qualification for the Finals. He has made the championship match on ten occasions with six wins and four losses. Before Djokovic outlasted him in that outstanding semi-final in Paris, Federer was unbeaten indoors in 2018 after victories in Rotterdam and Basel. The Swiss is currently on 99 career titles and is surely desperate to hit the century mark. The 37-year-old has a healthy head-to-head record against Nishikori (7-3) and Anderson (4-1) but, interestingly, trails Thiem (1-2).
Kevin Anderson – 22/1
The veteran South African makes his Finals debut and I doubt any tennis fan would begrudge him the spot. The 32-year-old is a model pro and all-round good egg who arrives in London primarily thanks that run to the Wimbledon final. A good player indoors, Anderson also grabbed a couple of titles in New York and Vienna. While Federer is favourite to top the group, Anderson should be in the mix for second.
Dominic Thiem – 25/1
The Austrian’s run to the final of Roland Garros proved that he is the biggest grand slam threat beyond previous major winners. The 25-year-old also claimed three titles in Buenos Aires, Lyon and St. Petersburg (indoors). This will be Thiem’s third appearance at the Finals and he is yet to escape the group stage. He has more than enough power to cause trouble, but will Thiem keep enough balls in play at the O2?
Kei Nishikori – 33/1
The exciting Japanese takes del Potro’s spot and returns for a fourth time to the year-end championships. It has been an excellent comeback year for the 28-year-old after an injured wrist ruined his 2017 campaign. Nishikori was ranked as low as 39 in the spring, but has fought his way back to the top 10. This man tends to do well indoors and has twice made the last four here.
I’d be surprised if we see any players except Djokovic and Federer atop the groups. Beyond that, I have a bit of a feeling for Isner in Group Guga Kuerten based on the season he’s had and doubts about Cilic and Zverev. Second place in Group Lleyton Hewitt looks like a dogfight and I’ll choose Nishikori. On Sunday November 18th, I believe Novak Djokovic will claim his sixth Finals trophy at 8/13.