2022 Rolex Paris Masters Finals
Rune vs Djokovic :
If I were a judge, it’d be time to recuse myself. If I were a cat, I could just look disdainfully at the finals and than go back to licking my own arms. The problem, and this has always been the problem, is I am neither a judge nor a cat. Holger Vitus Rune has lived la vida mas fina this week, and my expectations for him have fallen short. I, I, I, I, I though. It is not about me. Rune has played tremendous tennis and he has outworked every single opponent thus far. A day ago Felix made Tiafoe fold up. Tiafoe couldn’t convert simple rally balls, and his serve fell flat. Today, Rune did the same thing to Auger-Aliassime. FAA landed 73% of his first serves, and saved 5/8 break points, but he was the only one facing pressure on serve. Rune faced 0 break points today, and it was noticeable how unplayable his serve was. At the end of the first set, Rune was landing 89% of first serves, and won 83% of those (20/24). You add in a visibly higher energy level during rallies and a laser of a forehand, and he really does look like a completely different player than we’ve been watching so far in the season.
A few things to consider that could explain his sudden rise. Rune having a middling season leaves his legs/arms fresher than a lot of opponents. A young player is going to have less wear and tear on their shoulders and can swing freely here. Indoor tennis tends to have much truer bounces than any other code so it does lend itself to offense. Since Rune has a background in clay, a slightly slower court may be helping him feel more at home. A slightly grosser possibility is that Patrick Mouratoglou is a grounding influence in his camp. This is a guy who coached one of the greatest tennis players of all time in Serena Williams, and she’s a great competitor but the coach I suppose gets some credit. It’s tough for me to give him credit though since he looks like a genie that pops out when you rub a bottle of cologne. I’m sure one of the stats experts at Degensclub can dig this out but I’d like to take a look at his average groundstroke and serve speed this week as compared to other events this year. It just feels like Holger is faster stronger and more focused than he ever has been. I’ve been doubting him, but I can’t argue with great tennis.
Rune and Auger-Aliassime seemed like a pretty solid pick for a classic showdown, but it was pretty one-sided. Watching the early-goings of Djokovic and Tsitsipas, it seemed the same. Tsitsipas had a love hold in the first game, and it would be over an hour and 40 minutes until he notched one again. Losing the first 6-2 is rough, but Stefanos was pretty ineffective from the baseline during this stretch. He was slicing his backhand a bit too much, and his forehand was solid but wasn’t really impacting Djokovic’s timing. The second set looked like a foregone conclusion, but Tsitsipas escaped from difficult service game after difficult service game, including avoiding any break points faced. He was able to break for 3-2, and unlike Musetti he held in the next game. The big difference I thought was weight of shot. Tsitsipas stopped trying to really create offense and started swinging big. I wasn’t sure at first if he was just frustrated, going to a secondary plan, or had just found his timing, but it worked great. When he did finally get a forehand, he took the ball cross-court to great effect. Djokovic only faced two breaks points in this match, but Tsitsipas converted both and they were both in this second set. The third set was incredible tennis and there really isn’t a loser of this match here. Tsitsipas was able to save all four break points he faced in the third set, and in the tiebreaker it really just came down to a slight error for Tsitsipas where he sent a forehand and a backhand crosscourt when he would have scored going down the line. He had a volley to convert to stay on serve even with the tactical error, but Djokovic really kept the ball low with his down the line pass and his defense is enough that Tsitsipas tried to go inch-perfect.
So who wins? I find this to be a brand new iteration of this matchup, even though Djokovic beat Rune in 4 at the USO last year with some very lopsided sets and Rune winning a tiebreaker in the second. Rune is just a completely different player this week, and his serve is good enough to possibly slow down Djokovic’s returning. He’s definitely more capable of dealing with things on his backhand. Rune has a compact swing and gets great power on the ball. He also is taking the ball down the line a decent amount of the time, which is one thing Tsitsipas barely ever did in the match today. Tsitsipas grinded Djokovic down, and Rune will be looked to play more aggressive offense from the start.
It’s hard to really say Djokovic near his best form is gonna go down to a brand new challenger, but there’s something puzzling going on with the numbers. Djokovic is -417 currently, and this number is slightly below where he opened against Tsitsipas. He closed -550 most places against Tsitsipas, but I don’t think it’ll slide as much here. The price for Rune to win a set is only +105 currently, which is very off the standard for a guy priced at +300. One thing that’s somewhat important is to admit when you just don’t know. If Djokovic had won in straights, I’d like him to win here by a few games. Since it went three, I almost think Rune will also win a set. Djokovic elevates his level to the occasion though, and the prospect of a young challenger crushing the ball and serving well will likely see the best from the former #1. Rune did just beat Tsitsipas for a title in Stockholm, and by all accounts his play here has been a cut above that run. I’m expecting a repeat of the semis, with Djokovic’s commitment to maintaining a steady level making him a bit too hard to beat, but also letting Rune make inroads when he does see a few opportunities against Novak. Djokovic in 3, and for the love of glob Rune will you please stop proving me wrong?