The 2016 ATP World Tour Finals started on Sunday as the Ivan Lendl Group, the one featuring World No. 2 Novak Djokovic, began play in London. Other players in the group that saw action included Milos Raonic, Dominic Thiem, and Gael Monfils. In Sunday’s opening matches, Djokovic faced Thiem while Raonic faced Monfils as all players looked to start the finals off with a 1-0 record.
Djokovic had some trouble against Thiem in a match that featured a lengthy tiebreaker in the first set. The two players battled to a 7-6 (10-8) opening set, one that the Austrian won. However, Djokovic certainly didn’t fade into oblivion after the major setback. In fact, he then surged to a three-set victory, defeating Thiem 6-0, 6-2 in the balance of the match.
Thiem’s chances to advance to the knock-out stages clearly took a major blow. He simply is not a strong enough player on the hard-court surface at this point in his career to allow a winnable match to slip away. Mathematically he is certainly not out of the tournament, and he can target Monfils in particular for a victory later in the tournament. But for Thiem to battle so hard for an opening-set win and then to have nothing in the latter sets certainly doesn’t bode well for his chances in London this upcoming week.
Thiem, quite correctly in my view, was not considered much of a factor in the Ivan Lendl Group heading into the tournament. His outdoor clay-court skills are what have largely gotten him to this stage of the season, skills that don’t come into play so much on indoor cement courts.
But Raonic and Monfils both have done well on the hard-court surface over the courses of their careers, and they were the ones viewed as in a battle for the second spot in the Ivan Lendl Group. The Canadian posted a safe score against Monfils on Sunday, winning in straight sets without the need of a tiebreaker 6-3, 6-4. If both players should defeat Thiem and if both should lose to Djokovic, which is the order of things in the group, then their Sunday match result will determine the No. 2 seed out of their group. Accordingly, Milos Raonic is the player who emerged with the huge edge following Sunday’s play. He needs only to beat Thiem, who is on his worst surface, to put ample pressure on Monfils to defeat both the Austrian and Djokovic. In recent weeks, both players have missed matches due to injury but Raonic, at least, appears to be in shape for the tournament.
The Ivan Lendl Group will not see action on Monday as the other group, the John McEnroe Group, prepares to take to the courts. Monday’s matches will feature Stan Wawrinka against Kei Nishikori while Marin Cilic takes on Andy Murray. Both matches are fairly open in terms of who has the potential to win. Nishikori is a mild betting favorite while Murray is a stronger one (source: bet365). The matches start at 2 pm and 8 pm London time as Murray makes his debut as the top-ranked player in the world. That may bring some extra pressure with it, especially playing in front of a partisan British crowd.