2021 Tennis Betting Preview: Sascha Zverev Must Ace Serving Game to Challenge Novak Djokovic in ATP Finals Semis

Turin has been the setting for the ATP Finals for the first time in 2021 with the northern Italian city hosting the great and good of men’s tennis. With the group stage now out of the way, only four players remain. All four will be dreaming of lifting the trophy on Sunday, as well as claiming the 1,500 ranking points and £1.7m prize pot that an undefeated champion will claim.

Saturday’s semi-finals will see Novak Djokovic face Sascha Zverev for a place in the final with US Open champion Daniil Medvedev up against Casper Ruud. Both matches promise to be compelling contests with plenty on the line for all involved. Here is a preview of the two 2021 ATP Finals semi-finals.

Novak Djokovic (1) v Sascha Zverev (3)

After a difficult period which saw Djokovic miss the chance of a calendar year Grand Slam at the US Open in September, the world number one has looked revitalised recently. The Serbian entered the ATP Finals on the back of an impressive victory at the Paris Masters, where he defeated Medvedev in the final, and he has carried that into the year-end event in Turin.

One of the most impressive things about Djokovic’s recent form has been his serving. While the Serbian has never been the biggest server, he has added some beef to his first serve in recent weeks. Combine this with his trademark direction and Djokovic has become even harder to return against. 

The returning game will be key to this contest. Zverev is one of the most formidable servers in the men’s game and while his second serve was once his biggest weakness there are signs that the German has strengthened his mindset in 2021 — he no longer allows double faults to affect other areas of his play so easily.

Zverev might have lost to Djokovic at the US Open, but the memory of his comeback victory over the world number one at the Tokyo Olympics will still be fresh in his memory. In Japan, Zverev was able to maintain a high first serve percentage and this will be important again if he is to get the better of Djokovic.

Djokovic boasts one of the most reliable backhands in the men’s game, but it is his forehand which often does the damage. Therefore Zverev must look to engage Djokovic in as many backhand-to-backhand baseline exchanges as possible, borrowing a tactic that has been used to great effect by Medvedev against the Serbian in the past.

While it might go against his natural instincts as a baseline operator, Zverev should also look to come to the net as often as he can without being predictable. The German is frequently guilty of being too passive from the back of the court – he won’t get away with that against someone of Djokovic’s quality. Zverev must be proactive and look to dictate points.

Variety will be key for Zverev. His big serve should give him the opportunity to play serve-and-volley points while the German, who won the ATP Finals in 2018, would also be wise to make good use of the drop shot. However, he must be wary of shortening points for the sake of it. Zverev must wait for the right opportunity. 

Daniil Medvedev (2) v Casper Ruud (8)

Having three from three at the 2021 ATP Finals so far, Medvedev can certainly be considered among the favourites to go all the way in Turin. The Russian is the tournament’s defending champion and the fast court conditions in northern Italy appear to suit his natural game. Indeed, Medvedev will take some beating.

Jannik Sinner gave Medvedev a test in his final Red Group game with the 20-year-old pushing the world number two to a tie-break in the deciding set, but it is in these situations that he tends to produce his best tennis. In this form, Medvedev will be the favourite to reach the ATP Finals final. He might even be the favourite to win the tournament, even if he faces Djokovic on Sunday.

Medvedev has been taken to three sets in each of the three matches he has played in Turin with Hubert Hurkacz and Zverev also pushing the Russian all the way, but the 25-year-old is one of the best defenders in the game and opponents have found it difficult to hit through him in these conditions. Medvedev was only broken for the first time in the tournament in his dead rubber match against Sinner.

Ruud will need to be aggressive from the back of the court to stand a chance against Medvedev, such is the Russian’s level at the moment. The 25-year-old is aiming to become the first player since Djokovic in 2015 to retain the ATP Finals title having won the year-end tournament in London 12 months ago.

The 2021 ATP Finals have witnessed both the best and the worst of Ruud. The Norwegian started dreadfully slowly in matches against Cameron Norrie and Andrey Rublev, but recovered well to win. Ruud can’t afford such a slow start against Medvedev otherwise he will give himself too much ground to make up.

Against Rublev, Ruud was only able to make inroads when his serve stayed strong and he was able to make his way to the net more often. The Norwegian will likely have to adopt similar tactics to even stay competitive against Medvedev, who has the defensive skills to dictate most rallies from the baseline. Ruud will have to be imaginative.

No matter which way it is viewed, Ruud is the underdog in this year’s ATP Finals semi-finals. Merely qualifying for the year-end event was seen as an achievement for the 22-year-old, so an appearance in the final four should be considered a bonus even if this is where his tournament ultimately comes to an end.

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