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ATP Finals preview & pick: Rafael Nadal vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas
It’s winner takes all in this final round-robin match, as the Spaniard looks to defeat the Greek at the ATP Finals for the second straight year.
November 18, 2020
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Stefanos Tsitsipas was one point away from becoming the first defending Nitto ATP Finals champion since David Nalbandian in 2006 to lose his opening two round-robin matches, but thanks to a costly double fault on match point from Andrey Rublev, the Greek now controls his own destiny.
To reach the semifinals, Tsitsipas will need to defeat Rafael Nadal for the second time in seven tries, and while the odds are stacked against him, he certainly has the right mindset.
“I know it will require a lot of physical effort, and I’m going to have to go through a lot of pain and suffering, so it is going to be difficult match,” Tsitsipas told press. “I’m expecting a fight from my side.”
Defeating Nadal is like climbing a mountain, and doing so with a one-handed backhand is like climbing without an oxygen tank. It’s exhausting. No matter the opponent, if Nadal sees a one-hander across the net, he will pepper that side with heavy crosscourt forehands. It’s the simplest and most repeatable of game plans that has worked nearly 83 percent of the time. According to ultimatetennisstatistics.com, the Spaniard owns a 303-63 record against players with a one-handed backhand.
Nearly every match at the ATP Finals presents the players with a fresh slate, due to the complex scoring format— a player could theoretically lose his first two matches and still qualify for the semifinals. But judging by the pair’s first two matches, it’s clear Nadal has brought a higher level to London.
In addition to suffering physically, Tsitsipas will need to play high risk tennis. At 6’5”, mixing in some serve and volley plays would be wise.
As well as cracking any attackable forehand he’s presented with, like the one below.
Tsitsipas acknowledged he must be the aggressor on Thursday.
“I’m going to try and play aggressive tennis, you can’t play defensive with Rafa,” he said. “Try to play the rallies, apply pressure, serve well. It’s part of the game that I want to play against Rafa. I think everyone has to play this way.”
But there’s one glaring issue in Tsitsipas’ game that will likely prove troublesome tomorrow: his extremely untraditional open-stance slice backhand.
As tennis analyst Matthew Willis pointed out in a thread that is well worth a few minutes of your day, instead of the right-handed Tsitsipas planting his right foot before the slice, he plants his left foot. Because of this technical error, he’s unable to generate enough pace and backspin on the shot, and it often ends up floating instead of skidding through the court.
Willis presented a few examples of the ATP’s best slice backhands, including Roger Federer’s, Dominic Thiem’s and Grigor Dimitrov’s. All of them hit a closed-stance slice, allowing their weight to transfer onto the front leg. This allows for complete hip-rotation, as well as an open avenue for the right arm to follow through.
2/ Here’s a Federer slice (Top) vs one of Tsitsipas’ slices today in Vienna (Bottom)????
Federer = closed stance, right foot across body, making contact while right leg is leading. Tsitsipas = open to semi-open stance, making contact while left leg leading pic.twitter.com/njT2nQNGmZ
— Matthew Willis (@MattRacquet) October 28, 2020
Last year in London, Nadal was able to expose this weakness over and over again.
Of course, this is just one wrinkle in a high-stakes match that is sure to entertain, but it’s worth keeping an eye on. The oddsmakers peg Nadal as a solid -245 favorite with the most likely outcome a 7-6, 6-4 scoreline. Tsitsipas has beaten Nadal before, and will likely defeat the Spaniard a few more times in his career, but don’t expect the Greek to prevail on Thursday.
The Pick: Rafael Nadal