Novak Djokovic is the first player to guarantee himself a spot in the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals. He has two victories in the 2016 year-end event, beating Dominic Thiem on Sunday and Milos Raonic on Tuesday. It hasn’t been easy as Djokovic dropped a set to Thiem and won two tiebreakers by the minimum against Raonic, however, the Serbinator can’t miss the knock-out stages now as he sits 2-0. Furthermore, the Serb has also locked up the top seed in the Ivan Lendl Group.
“It was a very close match. I think very few points separated us. It really could have gone either way,” Djokovic claimed after the Raonic match. “I should have done my job earlier, to be honest. I’m not very pleased to drop my serve twice against Milos, especially the second time. I was 4-3, 30-0, then just four pretty bad unforced errors.”
Djokovic, who I don’t think has been himself since the French Open, is playing strong tennis in London after a patch of recent results that played a role in him losing the World No. 1 ranking for the first time since 2014. His post-US Open season has been particularly weak as he has struggled with injuries. Heading into London, I felt that Djokovic was in the weak group and I still feel that way. But his two wins have kept him in the running for the year-end No. 1 ranking and player of the year honors on the ATP Tour. Whether he’s playing back close to his normal level or whether he is taking advantage of the weaker group in London is something he’ll be able to prove when knockouts start this weekend.
On the flip side of things, Gael Monfils is the first player mathematically eliminated from winning the 2016 ATP World Tour Finals. The French player and Dominic Thiem each found themselves in a do-or-die match on Tuesday as both players entered the day 0-1. Thiem, not playing on his best surface, was able to take out Monfils, a player who was too injured to compete in a Paris-based event a couple weeks ago. The result of Tuesday’s match means that Monfils falls to 0-2 while Thiem improves to 1-1. Raonic, with a win over Monfils earlier in the tournament, is 1-1 as well following Tuesday’s play.
There are some years when a record of 1-2 can get you into the semifinals. However, this year won’t be one of them. Raonic and Thiem, each 1-1, will play one another in the final match in their group. That guarantees that one of them will finish 2-1 and that’s also the minimum record that Djokovic could have, a player who should beat Monfils later this week. As such, Monfils is out while Thiem and Raonic are in one another’s way for the 2nd spot in the group.
The Canadian, who has a chance to finish the season as the World No. 3, will likely enter his next match against Thiem as the favorite. Raonic’s ability to ace and to use pace on his passing shots makes him a very dangerous player in London. A question with Raonic is always if his body will hold up as the Canadian is injury prone. But at this point in the tournament, all that can be said it “so far so good.” London is not the most exhaustive tournament format with days off between matches in the early going, something that might work well for Raonic.
In the other group, Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori will meet on Wednesday in a battle of 1-0 players (not before 2 pm London time). Shortly thereafter Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic will meet in a match between 0-1 players (not before 8 pm). The favorites there are Murray and Cilic with the latter only a slim favorite. Murray is also the outright favorite to win the entire tournament, holding a slim betting lead over Djokovic (all favorites from bet365).