The tennis season has begun with Rafael Nadal, Ash Barty, Paula Badosa and Thanasi Kokkinakis among the champions at small-scale events in Australia.

Yet there has been one dominant story in the sport and little else has had a look-in in the lead-up to the Australian Open.

Now that Novak Djokovic knows his fate, there is the welcome prospect of eyes turning to matters on the tennis court, rather than the Federal Court.

With the action getting under way in Melbourne on Monday, Stats Perform looks at the main protagonists and what the numbers tell us about another high-stakes grand slam.

Djokovic absence blows open men's draw

As defending champion Djokovic heads for home, it is worth a reminder of how he has dominated this tournament.

Nine of his grand slam titles have come in Melbourne, and he has taken the trophy in each of the last three years, helping him cosy up alongside Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 majors, an all-time record they share. Of the 'Big Three', only Nadal is in the draw this year, with Federer currently on the injured list.

Djokovic has the highest win percentage in the Open Era (since 1969) at the Australian Open, among players with 20 or more wins (91.1 per cent – W82 L8). He was hoping to join Nadal (13 French Opens) and Margaret Court (11 Australian Opens) in the exclusive club of players to reach double figures for singles titles at one slam.

The Serb was also aspiring to become the first man in the Open Era to win four consecutive Australian Opens. It happened once before the tour turned professional, with Roy Emerson winning five in a row from 1963 to 1967. Djokovic has left Melbourne with the title every time that he has made it through to the semi-finals.

 

So who takes the title now?

Only Bjorn Borg (89.2 per cent) has a higher winning percentage in grand slam matches than Nadal (87.7 per cent) and Djokovic (87.5 per cent) in the Open Era, among players with 100 or more wins. So why not Nadal?

The 35-year-old and Djokovic have carved up 12 of the last 14 grand slam titles, Nadal winning four of those (three French Opens, one US Open). He is battling back from a foot injury lay-off and coronavirus, and might need to get the early rounds out of the way without undue stress to stand a chance at the business end.

The two exceptions in the Nadal-Djokovic sequence of slam dominance have come at the US Open, with Dominic Thiem winning in New York in 2020 and Daniil Medvedev triumphing at Djokovic's expense in last year's Flushing Meadows final. Thiem is not in Australia, but world number two Medvedev is, looking to become the third Russian man to win two slams, after Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Marat Safin.

The last man other than Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to secure back-to-back slam singles title was Andre Agassi (US Open 1999 and Australian Open 2000), but that is Medvedev's objective now, and he has the game to pull it off.

Nadal has reached at least the quarter-final stage in 15 of his last 16 grand slam appearances, winning six of those majors (four French Opens and two US Opens), so he may well be a factor.

Who else is in the frame? Alexander Zverev probably, having reached the quarter-finals in Australia in the last two seasons (SF in 2020 and QF in 2021). He won the Olympic Games and ATP Finals titles last year, so a grand slam is an obvious next step. He might want to keep double faults in check though, having served a tour-high 113 in slams last season.

Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the Australian semi-finals in 2019 and 2021, so throw him into the mix too, and Matteo Berrettini might be a threat. The Italian, a runner-up to Djokovic at Wimbledon in July, served more aces than any other player in grand slams last year (311 aces, 16.4 on average per match).

 

Others have more modest ambitions

Andy Murray is back at the Australian Open for the first time since 2019, when he lost in the first round against Roberto Bautista Agut in five sets and was more or less given his last rites as a tennis pro after the match, having indicated he was close to retirement.

The five-time Australian Open runner-up last won a match in this tournament in 2017, when he reached round four. A tough opener against Nikoloz Basilashvili awaits.

Spanish 40-year-old Feliciano Lopez will make his 80th appearance in a grand slam and become the second man in the Open Era with 80 or more appearances at the four majors, after Federer (81).

Do not expect an Australian to be men's champion, by the way. The last time an Australian reached the men's singles final was 2005, when Lleyton Hewitt lost against Safin, and the last home champion was Mark Edmondson in 1976.

Barty backed in stacked women's draw

For the first time since 1997, neither Serena nor Venus Williams will take part in the Australian Open. Yet the women's tour is in rude health, even without those great bastions.

Ash Barty is world number one and a standout pick for many, only enhancing her claims after winning an Adelaide International title in the run-up to this fortnight.

But there is staggering depth on the women's side at present, and Barty will face stiff competition.

Incredibly, the last five grand slam finals have featured 10 different women, and teenager Emma Raducanu's against-all-odds US Open triumph in September shows best of all that new stars are emerging.

Yet since 2000, only three non-seeded players have reached the women's singles final at the Australian Open: Serena Williams in 2007, Justine Henin in 2010 and Garbine Muguruza in 2020. 

Barty could become the first Australian to be women's champion since Chris O'Neil in 1978, and the first to reach the final since Wendy Turnbull lost to Hana Mandlikova in 1980.

The Queenslander is the top seed, and the last time the number one failed to reach at least the fourth round at Melbourne Park was in 1979, when Virginia Ruzici lost her opening match. Barty ended a long wait for an Australian winner of the women's title at Wimbledon last year, so why not closer to home as well?

 

Naomi Osaka is back, so what should we expect?

Truth be told, that's hard to know. Osaka took time out from tennis after the US Open to focus on her mental health and enjoyed hanging out with friends, before deciding she missed tennis enough to go back on tour.

She had three wins at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament recently before withdrawing from a fourth match, saying her body had "got a shock" from the intensity. As defending champion in the season's first major, she has a target on her back and will need to find a way to handle that.

Over the past six seasons, only Osaka has managed to win back-to-back grand slam singles titles among the women, and she has done so twice (US Open 2018 and Australian Open 2019, plus US Open 2020 and Australian Open 2021).

The last player to win back-to-back women's Australian Open singles titles was Victoria Azarenka (2012 and 2013), so it does not happen regularly.

Osaka has an 85 per cent win rate at this tournament: since 2000, only Jennifer Capriati (90 per cent) and Serena Williams (89 per cent) have had a higher win percentage in the main draw.

 

You want challengers to the big two? Try sticking a pin in the draw

The Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, which goes to the champion, is a trophy that upwards of a dozen women will seriously believe they can win.

Aryna Sabalenka has reached the semi-finals of the last two slams but is mired in some kind of hellish serving groove, having made 74 double faults in her last four matches and lost the last three in a row.

Anett Kontaveit won a tour-high 39 matches on hard courts last year but has only been to one grand slam quarter-final – last year in Australia, losing to Simona Halep.

What about Ons Jabeur, who matched Kontaveit for a tour-high 48 wins across all surfaces last year? The Tunisian is queen of the drop shot, making 147 successful such plays on tour last year, more than any other player, and recently reached the top 10 in the WTA rankings for the first time.

Maria Sakkari reached two slam semi-finals last year, the first of her career, and the form of Barbora Krejcikova and Badosa in the past week in Melbourne marks them out as contenders. Both are recent fast-risers, Krejcikova already with a French Open title to show.

WTA Finals champion Muguruza could be the second Spaniard to twice reach the Melbourne title match, after Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (1994 v Steffi Graf and 1995 v Mary Pierce). Spain has never had an Australian Open women's singles winner: former French Open and Wimbledon champ Muguruza is an authentic contender.

Halep was runner-up to Caroline Wozniacki in 2018, a semi-finalist in 2020 and quarter-finalist last year, and a Melbourne Summer Set title was a handy warm-up for the Romanian. Consider her, too.

Monica Seles, in 1991, was the last player to triumph on her debut in the main draw, but she was already a grand slam winner (1990 French Open). Given the strength of the line-up, the prospect of a bolter coming through this field is unlikely, even if the example of Raducanu tells us anything is possible.

Novak Djokovic has won the last three Australian Open titles and lifted the trophy nine times in all, which means he arrived in Melbourne as a hot favourite to triumph again.

Yet even before the chaos of the last 10 days, this looked a tough Australian Open for Djokovic, given the likes of Daniil Medvedev and Alexander Zverev have recently taken his scalp in major hard-court matches.

There was no doubt he was a worthy favourite, but Djokovic's dominance of the first half of last season was followed by a series of painful defeats, weakening his standing at the top of the game.

When the men's singles draw was made on Thursday, only two former champions featured: Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, the 2009 winner.

Here, Stats Perform assesses the contenders to follow Djokovic onto the Melbourne Park throne.

NEXT NUMBER ONE? DANIIL MEDVEDEV

Last year's runner-up, given a sound pasting by Djokovic in a final that came nowhere close to matching expectations, has come a long way since that crushing blow. Russian Medvedev was the only man to beat Djokovic in a grand slam last year, doing so at the final hurdle of the final major, without dropping a set in the US Open title match. That denied Djokovic a calendar year sweep of the majors, which would have been the first time the feat had been achieved by a man since Rod Laver's 1969 complete set.

He also took the first set off Djokovic in the Paris Masters final in November, only to lose the match. What is clear is that Medvedev is amassing experiences against Djokovic: some good and some bad, but all surely massively helpful. He lost in their first three encounters but has won four of the seven since.

Progress like this is what repeat champions are made of. Medvedev has a 9-9 win-loss record when dropping the first set of matches over the past year, which shows he is not easily beaten. Only Djokovic (14-6) has a better record in that respect.

Medvedev has a 54-9 record on hardcourts over the past 12 months, has gone mightily close to hitting number one in the rankings, and might see a lot of that top step in the months and years to come. On the 52-week rolling list, he holds a 16-8 win-loss record against top-10 opponents, which is second only to Djokovic (22-5).

Should Medvedev pull off a second consecutive grand slam win, it would make him just the third Russian man to win two or more grand slam singles titles, after Yevgeny Kafelnikov (French Open 1996 and Australian Open 1999) and Marat Safin (US Open 2000 and Australian Open 2005).

The last player other than Federer, Nadal and Djokovic to secure back-to-back majors was Andre Agassi (US Open 1999 and Australian Open 2000).

 

OVERDUE SLAM INCOMING? ALEXANDER ZVEREV

The Olympic champion and ATP Finals winner is just lacking a grand slam title to confirm to the wider sporting world his status as one of the rising generation's preeminent performers. Zverev beat Djokovic in semi-finals en route to both of those big 2021 titles, and although he also lost three times to the 20-time major winner over the season, he took four sets off the man from Belgrade in those defeats.

Zverev is improving season on season, and if he avoids injuries or other tribulations in 2022 then he surely stands a strong chance of picking up that first slam before the year is out. He won six titles in all in 2021, more than any other singles player on the ATP Tour, and holds a 43-10 win-loss record on hardcourts on the 52-week rolling list.

When the draw was made, he and Djokovic were set on another semi-final collision course, and that prospect looked tantalising. Until recently so far apart, the gap has closed considerably, Zverev tallying victories that will have surely troubled the world number one.

NOT READY TO BE YESTERDAY'S MAN: RAFAEL NADAL

Because why the heck not? Nadal, at the age of 35, returned from a long foot injury lay-off with a title at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament this month, and if his record at the Australian Open is deemed unspectacular by some, the Spaniard himself takes great pride in his achievements.

Recently, in a Melbourne news conference, he was asked why he had not reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open since his title year, and Nadal swiftly put his questioner right.

"I am very sorry to tell you – I don't want to – but I have been in the final of 2012, '14, '17, '19," he said. "I got injured a couple of times here in my tennis career, so of course it's been a great tournament for me, and of course I had a lot of challenges in terms of injuries in this event. Sorry to correct you."

Polite as ever, but pointed. Nadal knows he has been successful in Australia and would surely not have returned this year if he felt there was no chance of another run to the final. He rightly takes issue with those who forget his feats. Remember, he, like Djokovic and Federer, sits on 20 grand slams.

Nadal reached the quarter-finals last year and lost from two sets up against Stefanos Tsitsipas, so he will want to banish that memory. There is little evidence of hard-court form beyond his win in a mediocre field last week in Melbourne, but he is Rafael Nadal and he wins tennis tournaments. At least one every year since 2004. A 6-8 record against rival top-10 players over the past 52 weeks is no great shakes, but you count out Nadal at your peril.

 

NEXTGEN OR NEXT NEW CHAMP? JANNIK SINNER

Tennis is such a generation game just now. The Big Three (Big Four, if you include Andy Murray) are in the twilight years of their careers, coming under long-awaited threat from the mid-twenties likes of Medvedev, Zverev, Dominic Thiem (absent from Australia), Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini.

Sinner is to the forefront of the pack of the next big group coming through (see also: Carlos Alcaraz, Lorenzo Musetti). At 20, the Italian is entering a big year in the context of his career. By the time Djokovic turned 20, he was sixth in the world, Federer was 14th on the day he left his teenage years behind, and Nadal was second. Progress comes at different rates.

Sinner was 15th in the rankings on his last birthday, in August, but has since dipped his toes into the top 10 and currently stands 11th. He won four ATP Tour titles in 2021, finished the year with a 49-22 record, and can reasonably be expected to kick on. The Italian has yet to majorly show up at the grand slams, with a Roland Garros quarter-final in 2020 his best run yet.

Expect that to change soon enough. Sinner is only 6-9 against top-10 players on the 52-week list, but he warmed up for the challenge that lies ahead in Melbourne with three straight-sets singles victories at the ATP Cup. His 42-14 record on hardcourts over the last year suggests the Australian Open should suit him as well as any slam.

Novak Djokovic has been drawn against Miomir Kecmanovic in the opening round of the Australian Open as the defending champion awaits to hear if he can stay in the country.

World number one Djokovic was last week given a medical exemption to enter Australia, despite not being vaccinated, only for border officials to block it upon his arrival.

The 20-time grand slam winner was detained for four days while waiting to appeal the case on Monday, which went in his favour at Melbourne Circuit Court.

Djokovic has since started training ahead of the Australian Open, which begins next Monday, though immigration minister Alex Hawke may yet cancel his visa for a second time. 

A decision on whether Djokovic can compete in the first grand slam of the year, which he has won a record nine times, could be made on Thursday.

Should he be given the all clear to take part, Djokovic will face compatriot Kecmanovic in the first round at Melbourne Park.

Thursday's draw, which was delayed by one hour and 15 minutes for unspecified reasons, also saw fellow 20-time grand slam winner Rafael Nadal paired with Marcos Giron.

Nadal is in the same half of the draw as Djokovic, meaning the pair could meet in the semi-finals, while third seed Alexander Zverev is also in the top half.

Second seed and 2021 finalist Daniil Medvedev is in the bottom half along with Stefanos Tsitsipas and will take on Henri Laaksonen first up.

In the women's draw, Australia's world number one Ash Barty will begin her quest for glory on home soil against a qualifier.

The top seed is on a collision course with defending champion Naomi Osaka, who goes face-to-face with Camila Osorio in round one on her return from a four-month break.

Reigning US Open winner Emma Raducanu is up against Sloane Stephens, who won the New York major in 2017, while Storm Sanders awaits second seed Aryna Sabalenka.

Canada will face Spain in their first ATP Cup final after eliminating defending champions Russia in Saturday's semi-final in Sydney. 

Denis Shapovalov and Felix Auger-Aliassime beat Russian duo Daniil Medvedev and Roman Safiullin 4-6 7-5 10-7 in the doubles to complete a tense 2-1 victory for Canada.

World number 14 Shapovalov edged Safiullin 6-4 5-7 6-4, but US Open champion Medvedev levelled up with a 6-4 6-0 win against Auger-Aliassime in the other singles match.

That set up a doubles showdown for the right to face Spain, who overcame Poland on Friday, which Canada came from behind to win.

Russia held in the opening set to take the lead, though a break of serve late in the second set for Canada ensured the contest would be decided by a tie-breaker.

Shapovalov and Auger-Aliassime held their nerve at the Ken Rosewall Arena, recovering from 6-5 down to win 10-7.

It marks a remarkable comeback in more ways than one for Canada, who lost their first four matches of the competition.

"Denis helped me and the team to push myself," Auger-Aliassime said in his on-court interview. 

"We had a tough start in the doubles, so to be able to come back in this way, it's really a team effort.

"That's what the ATP Cup is about. You can still win after being one-all and losing a tough singles. It's really about the team effort and we're happy to be through."

Felix Auger-Aliassime pulled off a terrific win over Alexander Zverev to carry Canada through to the ATP Cup semi-finals.

After Great Britain beat the United States 2-1 earlier to stake a claim for a last-four spot, Canada's singles players rose to the challenge to see off Germany.

That meant disappointment for Dan Evans and the British team, with Canada progressing to a clash with Russia as winners of Group C.

Denis Shapovalov got the better of Jan-Lennard Struff in a tight tussle, the world number 14 beating 51st-ranked Struff 7-6 (7-5) 4-6 6-3, giving Auger-Aliassime a swing at Olympic Games and ATP Finals champion Zverev before a possible doubles decider.

The world number 11 duly got the better of third-ranked Zverev by a similar score to the opening singles rubber, winning 75 per cent of first-serve points as he came through 6-4 4-6 6-3 late at night in Sydney.

Great Britain had impressed in edging out the US team, with Dan Evans beating John Isner and then teaming up with Jamie Murray to see off Isner and Taylor Fritz 6-7 (3-7) 7-5 10-8 in a dramatic doubles decider. Fritz beat Cameron Norrie in the second singles rubber.

Daniil Medvedev played a pivotal role as Russia wrapped up a perfect 3-0 match record in Group B, beating Italy 2-1 to nail down their semi-final place.

Defending champions Russia, who also won the Davis Cup last year, were on the back foot early on against Italy after Jannik Sinner beat Roman Safiullin, but US Open champion Medvedev ground out a 6-2 6-7 (5-7) 6-4 win over Matteo Berrettini to take the match – and the battle for top spot in the group – down to a doubles decider.

Medvedev and Safiullin were given a stiff test by their singles foes on the doubles court but had just enough to beat Berrettini and Sinner 7-5 4-6 10-5.

Daniil Medvedev quietened the home crowd in Sydney as he dispatched Australia's Alex De Minaur in straight sets to seal victory for Russia in the ATP Cup.

Medvedev, who led Russia to victory in last year's tournament, lost his first singles match at the 2022 edition, going down to France's Ugo Humbert.

However, the US Open champion hit back in convincing fashion against De Minaur, winning 6-4 6-2 in 80 minutes.

Medvedev's win took Russia into an unassailable 2-0 lead prior to the doubles encounter between the two nations, which the world number two also featured in alongside the in-form Roman Safiullin, who made it three wins from as many games by overcoming James Duckworth 7-6 (8-6) 6-4.

The Russian duo then made sure of a 3-0 match win in the doubles, coming back from losing the second set to triumph 10-6 in the decider.

"We fight when we play for our country, to the last point," said Medvedev, who also revealed he felt unwell before his singles game and had to take painkillers.

"I'm really happy for Roman, he's winning every match he's played so far. I watched his match tonight from the locker room. I've known him since he was 10, he had a good junior career and has been unlucky with injuries."

Russia have put themselves in a strong position to qualify from Group B, though they face Italy – in a repeat of last year's final – in their last match, with Australia taking on France, who are already eliminated.

France's elimination came at the hands of Italy, with Matteo Berrettini's singles win over Humbert was enough to secure victory for the 2021 runners-up.

Great Britain suffered disappointment in Group C, with Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov coming out on top 6-4 6-1 in the decisive doubles encounter against Joe Salisbury and Jamie Murray. 

Dan Evans defeated Shapovalov in straight sets to nudge Great Britain ahead, yet Auger-Aliassime started Canada's comeback with a 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 win over Cameron Norrie.

It is all to play for in that group, with Germany having overcome the United States 2-1 – world number three Alexander Zverev in commanding form once more.

That leaves all four teams on 1-1 records and in with a chance of making the semi-finals.

Daniil Medvedev suffered a shock loss in his first match of the year as the US Open champion was beaten by Ugo Humbert at the ATP Cup.

World number two Medvedev led by a set and 3-0 but stumbled from there and went down 6-7 (5-7) 7-5 7-6 (7-2) at the team event in Sydney.

He put that defeat behind him and paired up with Roman Safiullin in doubles to clinch a 2-1 victory for Russia over France in the round-robin Group B tie.

Medvedev and Safiullin were 6-4 6-4 winners over Fabrice Martin and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the tie decider, with world number 167 Safiullin having earlier scored an impressive 2-6 7-5 6-3 singles victory over Arthur Rinderknech.

Humbert's remarkable comeback victory over Medvedev was the standout result of the contest, however, with the 23-year-old French left-hander saying afterwards: "It was a very tough match. I am very happy."

Metz-born Humbert added, quoted on the ATP website: "I had some opportunities in the first set and I just tried to stay relaxed and focused on what I had to do. It was a great match."

Australia had an eye-catching win in the same group, landing a 2-1 success over Italy, helped by Alex de Minaur beating Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini.

De Minaur scored a 6-3 7-6 (7-4) win to level the tie after Jannik Sinner swept past Max Purcell 6-1 6-3, with Berrettini and Simone Bolelli then beaten 6-3 7-5 in a late-night doubles tussle by John Peers and Luke Saville.

In Group C, Great Britain scored a 2-1 win over Germany, with Dan Evans and Jamie Murray teaming up in doubles to beat Alexander Zverev and Kevin Krawietz 6-3 6-4 to take the tie.

Zverev had earlier been too good for Cameron Norrie, posting a 7-6 (7-2) 6-1 win, after Evans sped to a 6-1 6-2 victory over Jan-Lennard Struff.

In their next tie, Germany will do battle with a United States side who were impressive 3-0 winners against Canada on Sunday. John Isner and Taylor Fritz scored singles victories over Brayden Schnur and Felix Auger-Aliassime before pairing up to beat Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov in doubles.

The Russian Tennis Federation sealed the 2020-21 Davis Cup after beating Croatia 2-0 in the final in Madrid.

Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev secured a third title for the RTF following 7-6 (9-7) 6-2 and 6-4 7-6 (7-5) wins over Marin Cilic and Borna Gojo respectively.

It completed a double for the Russians after Liudmila Samsonova inspired the women's team to glory in the Billie Jean King Cup last month.

Appearing in their first Davis Cup showpiece since 2007, the RTF had lost only two matches during the finals – one of which coming during Saturday's win over Germany with the outcome already decided.

Rublev broke in game seven on the way to taking the opening set against Gojo 6-4.

The world number five was strong on his first serve, winning 36 of 39 points, and drew first blood for his nation after prevailing 9-7 in the second-set tie-break.

US Open champion Medvedev then took on Cilic, who was attempting to keep Croatia's hopes alive in what was their third final in five years.

The world number two's strong serve proved the difference during a tight opening set. Indeed, he hit seven aces on the way to edging his nose in front 9-7 on the tie-break.

Medvedev then broke the world number 30 in game four to take command of the second set.

And a crucial second break followed at 5-2 up to secure a hat-trick of Davis Cup crowns for his nation, who were also victorious in 2002 and 2006.

Alexander Zverev is targeting an elusive grand slam title after the Olympic Games gold medallist capped a fine year with ATP Finals glory.

Zverev outmatched defending champion and second seed Daniil Medvedev 6-4 6-4 to claim his second ATP Finals crown in Turin on Sunday.

Champion at the Tokyo Games, Zverev became the first player to beat the world number one and two in the semis and final since Andre Agassi in 1990, having upstaged Novak Djokovic in the final four.

After celebrating his 59 tour-level victories – the best on tour – Zverev turned his attention to grand slams.

Despite his success at the Olympics and Masters 1000 level, Zverev is yet to break through at slams having lost last year's US Open final, while reaching three semi-finals previously.

Asked if he was closer than ever to winning a slam, Zverev replied: "I think so, yeah. I mean, why not, right?

"I've kind of succeeded at every single level. There's one thing missing. I hope I can do that next year."

Zverev, who claimed a tour-leading sixth title this season, added: "They [things] couldn't be much better, to be honest.

"I'm obviously happy with how the season went, I'm happy with the finish of the season because obviously it was a great year.

"To capture the title here has been incredible."

US Open winner Medvedev also backed Zverev to conquer a grand slam tournament, saying: "Sascha is a great player who is capable of beating anybody, so he definitely can win a Grand Slam, because It’s just obvious.

"But he's not the only one and that's where it gets tough. He was in the semi-finals of the US Open and lost in five sets [to Djokovic]. Who knows maybe if he was in the final he might have beaten me.

"It's just a matter of every tournament is a different scenario and surface, you have to win seven matches to be a grand slam champion. Is he capable? Yes. Is he going to do it? We never know."

Alexander Zverev outmatched defending champion Daniil Medvedev in straight sets to claim his second ATP Finals title on Sunday.

World number three Zverev was defeated by Medvedev in the group stage, but the German prevailed 6-4 6-4 in the final for his tour-best sixth trophy of the year.

The 24-year-old fired eight aces on his way to a deserved win over Medvedev, secured in just an hour and 15 minutes.

"It was great," Zverev said in his on-court interview. "I won the Finals, with a win in the final against someone I had lost [against] five times in a row, so I had to play one of my best matches. 

"I am happy about that and happy to go on holiday with this win."

 

Building on his semi-final victory over Novak Djokovic, Zverev made a strong start in Turin and broke his opponent in the third game.

Medvedev was unable to hit back as Zverev dominated behind his first serve to see out the first set.

The Russian's hopes of becoming the first repeat champion since Djokovic's four in a row between 2012 and 2015 were further dented when losing serve in the opening game of the second set.

Putting his powerful game to good use, Zverev only improved as the contest went on at the Pala Alpitour venue as he saw the job through with his first match point to cap the year in style.

Your moment, @AlexZverev#NittoATPFinals pic.twitter.com/HOSxnFdSfh

— ATP Tour (@atptour) November 21, 2021 Data Slam: Alexander the great?

Zverev had lost his previous five meetings with Medvedev, as he pointed out, but he bettered his opponent in every department on his way to becoming just the fourth player in ATP Finals history to earn semi-final and final wins over the world's top-two players.

His 59 tour-level wins in 2021 is the most of any player, fittingly overtaking Medvedev on that list with this statement victory.

TOTAL POINTS WON

Zverev – 61
Medvedev – 51

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Zverev – 8/1
Medvedev – 3/2

BREAK POINTS WON

Zverev – 2/4
Medvedev – 0/0

Daniil Medvedev will defend his ATP Finals crown on Sunday following a commanding straight-sets victory over Casper Ruud in the semi-finals.

Reigning champion Medvedev cruised through to the final after wrapping up a 6-4 6-2 win in one hour and 20 minutes in Turin.

The world number two will face Novak Djokovic or Alexander Zverev as he aims to become the ninth different player to successfully defend this title.

Medvedev reached the semi-finals of the year-ending championship with a match to spare, winning three out of three in the Red Group, and did not offer up a single break point against Ruud, who he had beaten in both of their previous meetings.

The US Open champion took early command, breaking in game three and holding before serving to love to take the opening set.

The winner of five ATP Tour titles in 2021, world number eight Ruud was aiming to become the third debutant to lift this trophy in five years after Grigor Dimitrov (2017) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (2019).

However the Norwegian, who squeezed past Andrey Rublev on Friday, was broken twice in the second set as Medvedev surged into a 5-2 lead, before serving out to complete a ninth straight win at this event.

Should Djokovic beat Zverev, it will bring up a fourth meeting of 2021 between the world’s top two players. The Serbian beat Medvedev at the Paris Masters earlier this month and in the Australian Open final at the start of the season, but went down in straight sets at Flushing Meadows in September.


WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Medvedev – 20/16
Ruud – 16/26

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS 

Medvedev – 3/2
Ruud – 1/3

BREAK POINTS WON 

Medvedev – 3/9
Ruud – 0/0

Casper Ruud revealed his approach was to "fight fire with fire" in his huge win over Andrey Rublev at the ATP Finals and is already relishing getting a shot at Daniil Medvedev.

The Norwegian has enjoyed a fine 2021, winning five ATP Tour titles, and has now moved into the semi-finals in Turin on his debut appearance at the prestigious year-ending event.

Ruud appeared to be on the way out when he was trailing by a set and a break against Rublev, having lost all four of the previous meetings between the pair.

But he fought back to win 2-6 7-5 7-6 (7-5) on Friday and extend his impressive season by at least one more match.

"The court is playing very fast and Andrey plays very fast," said Ruud, who triumphed despite only winning 98 of the 208 points played in an intense battle where his Russian opponent also impressed.

"He rips the ball harder than anyone on the tour and serves very well on his first serve. 

"We all want to play under control and with initiative, but it is not easy against Rublev because he makes you run and play defensively all the time. 

"I knew I had to fight fire with fire. 

"On the big points, I think I played quite smartly."

Aside from Ruud, the other three semi-finalists (Medvedev, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev) are all former ATP Finals winners, making this event the first since 1994 where that has happened.

US Open champion Medvedev represents a daunting challenge in the last four for Ruud, who bounced back from an opening Green Group loss to Djokovic by beating alternate Cameron Norrie before his high-quality winner-takes-all clash with Rublev.

"I am looking forward to Saturday already – it is going to be another tough battle," said the 22-year-old after firing down 14 aces in his victory.

"Medvedev is a different kind of player to Rublev. He is one of the best in the world, and he has proven himself as one of the best over the past two or three years. 

"I have played against him a couple of times and lost both, but I know a little bit about what I am going to face, and it is going to be a fun challenge.

"I am just enjoying the moment."

Two of the last three players to reach the last four on debut at the ATP Finals have gone on to win the tournament, Grigor Dimitrov (2017) and Stefanos Tsitsipas (2019).

Ruud will dream of replicating that duo, but Rublev must come to terms with a second consecutive group-stage exit in the ATP Finals.

"It is tough," Rublev said. "Hopefully I can get through it to get a good lesson, which will give me a huge improvement.

"In the moment, I got tight, which is normal. Casper played well. He has a great forehand – one of the best on tour."

Daniil Medvedev withstood a superb fightback from home favourite Jannik Sinner to win a third straight match at the ATP Finals in Turin.

The world number two, who had already booked his semi-final slot with victory over Alexander Zverev on Tuesday, saved two match points on his way to a 6-0 6-7 (5-7) 7-6 (10-8) win in two hours and 32 minutes.

Medvedev committed just three unforced errors in a sublime opening set, wrapping it up with the minimum of fuss in 26 minutes.

A shell-shocked Sinner soon found his composure, though, and after a bruising hour and five minutes took the second set in the tie-break.

The Italian powered into a 4-2 lead in the decider, yet Medvedev fought back and sealed victory in the tie-break with a backhand winner on his second match point.

Reigning champion Medvedev will face either Casper Ruud or Andrey Rublev in the last four, with the pair facing off on Friday in the Green Group.

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS   

Medvedev  – 18/5
Sinner – 5/2

BREAK POINTS WON 

Medvedev – 5/11
Sinner – 2/5

Jannik Sinner will replace Matteo Berrettini in the ATP Finals, meaning Daniil Medvedev has to prepare for a different opponent than planned.

Medvedev made it two wins from two in Turin as he fought to a 6-3 6-7 (3-6) 7-6 (8-6) victory over Alexander Zverev on Tuesday.

That win sealed the defending champion's place in the semi-finals, and he will now aim to maintain his momentum when he returns to the court for his final group game.

However, he will not face Berrettini as initially scheduled, after the Italian world number seven was forced to withdraw with an injury he sustained against Zverev on Sunday.

Berrettini had to retire from that match, and compatriot Sinner will replace him.

Sinner's first match will be against Hubert Hurkacz in a repeat of the Miami Open final – the Pole claiming his maiden ATP Masters 1000 title on that occasion.

Hurkacz lost his first match of his debut Finals, going down to Medvedev, who was made to work harder against Zverev.

"Definitely one of the matches to remember," Medvedev said after his win over the German. "When you win 8-6 in the tie-break in the third...

"It was 4-2 for him, so I was like okay, he serves a few aces, it's done. I made it 6-4, and I was like okay, that's my moment now. 

"Just an amazing feeling. Not actually much to say about the match, just amazing.

"Sometimes that's how tennis is. You just try to do your best. Sometimes luck is on your side, sometimes not. Sometimes it's more than just luck. I just try to do my best, and I'm really happy the past seven matches went in my favour."

Daniil Medvedev eventually overcame Alexander Zverev in a high-quality contest to record his second win of this year's ATP Finals.

The Russian sealed a 6-3 6-7 (3-7) 7-6 (8-6) victory in a tight encounter in which there was only one break of serve, which came in the first game of the match for Medvedev in Turin.

Exactly a year to the day since the two faced each other in the same tournament in London, it looked like history might repeat itself to an even greater extent as Medvedev won the first set 6-3, as he had done in 2020 in a straight-sets win.

The defending champion was dominating from the baseline, but the second set saw a drastic improvement from Zverev, who hit 13 aces having managed just one in the first set.

The German could still not get close to breaking the Medvedev serve, but was able to win the tie-break to level things up.

The third set followed a similar pattern, almost inevitably ending with another tie-break. Despite saving two match points, Zverev could do nothing about the third as Medvedev secured the win and he will qualify if Hubert Hurkacz beats Matteo Berrettini in Red Group later on Tuesday.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS 

Medvedev – 36/27
Zverev – 48/25

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS 

Medvedev – 14/1
Zverev – 18/2

BREAK POINTS WON 

Medvedev – 1/4
Zverev – 0/4

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