Sep 11, 2021

2021 US Open ATP Finals Prediction

Got only one “you don’t know what you’re talking about” comment this tournament. It’s usually not great to engage someone who’s in a bad mood, but they make a good point and it did remind me that I usually issue a little disclaimer at some point during these posts. Personally, I know a great deal about the players on the tour, about the structure of the tour, about the books pricing habits and process, and a handful of other nice things that make me feel half-qualified to write these articles. For everything I know though, there is a boatload of stuff I don’t. Professional tennis is often an all-out sprint and involves a ton of variance within a single match. I don’t get up to date injury information, I don’t have flight or hotel information to see who’s been there longer or who plans on heading to the next event early, and I’m not at practice sessions to see who’s struggling with what on that day. Those are just excuses though, and what I’m really getting at is sport is often not a solvable equation. There are a number of matches where I’m excited to see what happens more than I am excited to offer an opinion. Placing a prediction at the end of a match I’m not entirely sure of does feel disingenuous at times, but that’s kinda the format I’ve adopted so I do apologize when I eat it. The later rounds of a tennis event are always harder to predict because you’re trying to gauge each player’s current level against each other, and included within that “current level” is the knowledge of who has played better in the past. If you look at some of the great champions, they have an ability to elevate to the level of their opponent, and I do fall victim to the “prove it” methodology when it comes to young players pulling off a big win. My point is, I’m doing my best, but very often, my best is trash : ) Sport is inherently unpredictable, otherwise we wouldn’t enjoy watching it. Now for some reason, I will still attempt to predict the finals.

Djokovic vs Medvedev :

“He won’t do that to Zverev though.” “He’ll lose the first set to these other players, but he won’t do that to Zverev, right?” It feels like the sentiment between fans, announcers, and local giraffes was that Djokovic would need to change gears for this one. Nope. Nice try giraffes, keep eating leafs. Djokovic didn’t start off this match with the same level he finished the Berretini one with, and after seeing a break point chance of his own at 4-3 in the first, he was broken at 4-4 and had to watch Zverev close out the set. Zverev’s ability to serve out has been better and better, and it’s partially due to his serve improving but also his overall game being a bit conservative compared to his ability. There’s a tendency when your opponent is serving for the set to just try to put balls in play, and expect the pressure to tighten up their swings. Since Zverev isn’t going for a lot, this doesn’t really happen, and since he’s not going huge (as far as angles or depth) on most attempts, having the lead doesn’t really require him to do anything special. Pressures aside, looking for him to make errors has the opposite effect. He thrives, because in his head he expects to win, and opponents giving him balls to work with feels right.

After losing the first set, there was an odd calm in most of the chats I was lurking in. Djokovic is such a reliable competitor that it almost felt standard that he broke in the second game. Once he held serve to secure the break, the set felt completely over. Set three was another Djokovic classic. I would wager no one on tour has won more single break sets than him. He tends to just make returns at the business end of sets, and while we regard Zverev as the serving threat in this one, Djokovic ends this one with 12 aces compared to 16, 66% 1st serve in play to 62%, and 77% 1st serve points won compared to 75. Winning Wimbledon, winning the Australian Open, and winning here has shown time and time again that his serve is underrated. He throws in some double faults sometimes where his body looks like a jellyfish clenching, but he hits his targets and tends to always wind up moving forward when returns do comeback.

Zverev stepped things up in set 4, and to his credit he didn’t just fold up like he would have in the past. He started hitting bigger, and his beady little eyes seemed dialed in as he put a ton of returns in play. The distance covered in this match was pretty even also, and the quality of rallies was really high. As u/businessman pointed out, the way Djokovic keeps his backhand low really negated Zverev’s power advantage. Neither player could really hit their way out of rallies with a single shot, but Novak did seem to be able to uncork a little extra power on his forehand in key moments, and employing the dropshots wasn’t always successful but it gave Zverev more court to cover.

The fifth set was the epitome of the Djokovic puzzle. How to beat a guy whose level seems to go up as a match goes long. I always praise Sakkari, but Djokovic is the ATP version. He’s winning with great tennis, but he also appears to just be in better shape than the rest of the tour. It’s hard to cheer against him either, even though his post-match interview saw him go to bat for Tsitsipas and refer to Zverev as a great guy on and off the court. I do like Tsitsipas being forgiven, because he’ll likely only get more egotistical if people keep insisting he defend his persona and actions. In time, he can prove that he’s not really stalling to change the momentum, even if it is fairly obvious that he is stalling to change the momentum. I’d compare “it’s the rules problem not the players” to the James Harden situation. Harden routinely initiates contact and then moves in a manner that gets the defender’s arm tangled in his so he can shoot foul shots. It’s within the rules, but it’s still annoying to watch. Fans in general love drama, but they only want drama because they are bored. We just want high quality tennis. As for the Zverev comments, I think Djokovic is in positive mode when he does press, and I get that. He has wanted for a while now to be a bastion of positivity and love, and while he isn’t, he’s doing his best. Zverev is a douche though. Remove the abuse allegations, and the covid fiasco, and he still has been a petulant child throughout most of his career. I’ll go another direction though and say that we can’t be so quick to tie people to their statements. As a fan, I literally gush emotion when someone finally nails an interview. Public speaking isn’t easy, and most of these high profile players are just laser focused on not saying anything wrong and being positive. Also, maybe Zverev in his interaction with Djokovic has always been 100% wonderful.

Felix was an exciting matchup for Medvedev in the same sense that Sakkari was a huge test for Raducanu, and both ended up being lopsided losses. I wondered how his power would effect Medvedev, but I should have noticed while I was typing that sentence that Med was standing behind me waiting for me to finish. That seems to be the story this week. Whatever people do, Medvedev is already there. His court coverage is insane, no matter how many times you watch it. His serve was firing in the semifinals which will be incredibly important in the finals. At 5-3 30-0 in the 2nd set, many people started to really dig into their couches for a match, but things went south from there, with Medvedev winning the next 4 games and running away with the third set. It’s been a perfect tournament for Medvedev, but Felix really showed glimpses of him being a top contender even in a straight sets loss. He’ll need to make some improvements to his backhand (a bit more variety would go a long way) but he’s still growing physically and plus he got a cool new haircut.

This finals is tricky because I got the Australian Open so very wrong. I was ready to annoint Medvedev the winner of the Australian Open and he went out and got completely dismissed. It would be easy to point to that here and say that Novak can’t be beat on hardcourt by a baseliner. It might be true, but there are still somethings to consider. As far as wear and tear, Novak has played 24 sets to Medvedev’s 19. 24 is 5 more than 19, according to my calculator and my smart friend who insists I should “stop texting him for this dumb shit”. Nice try, brainiac, this is what you’re heres for. Also, what’s up with that language? Tennis is a classy sport. Djokovic had some back concerns in his last match, and while he played through them, he has struggled in the past with neck and back issues. They’ve never kept him from competing in a match, but there have always been brief periods where he was not at his best. Medvedev’s matches have been much shorter than Novak’s in terms of time spent on court as well. He’s been a robot and he’s played as if in his mind he is already in the finals. The -275 line offered for Novak makes sense given the AO result, but I think this one will be close. Where Djokovic seems to unravel Medvedev is Daniil’s lack of weight of shot. He moves the ball brilliantly, but relies on subtle spins and angles to hit through the court. Djokovic seemed too quick to the ball in the Australian Open and there wasn’t a point in the Zverev match where he looked slow. Med will need to play a perfect match, but he’s played perfect thus far. The AO dismissal was unfortunate, but Daniil is not so childish as to not learn from that. Djokovic is a puzzle that no one has solved though, and I can see already that I will wind up in a circle here. Medvedev is playing his best tennis and Djokovic can’t possibly beat him easily, but Djokovic just hasn’t been beaten at a major in the past year. The good news is that either result would be amazing. Medvedev deserves a major, and you can be sure that if he gets it against Djokovic at this tournament it will involve a worldclass performance. The calendar slam would be a career-crowning achievement for a guy who has fought hard on the tour for 10+ years. I genuinely want to see the emotion that pours out of Novak if he wins, and I think we will get a look at it at the end. Djokovic in 4.