Where once we thought that Dominic Thiem was the heir apparent to Rafael Nadalon the clay, it feels a far more even affair, as Thiem comes into this encounter as the latest Slam champion on the block.
Having dispatched Nadal on his way to a first Australian Open final, and then the monumental feat of coming back from two sets down to claim his maiden Slam, it is fair to see we should be viewing this match a lot more as a meeting of rivals than the King and his prince in waiting!
Thiem had to fight hard for his opening win as he reversed the result from last year’s Nitto ATP Finals, beating the defending champion Stefanos Tsitsipas, but the ease on which Nadal dispatched debutant Andrey Rublev means he sits on top of the table for now.
Thiem mixed things up against Tsitsipas, and while he is a solid volleyer, he tends to come in to finish his points off at the net but threw in a few serve-volleys against the Greek. He will need to keep things moving and maybe take a few risks, moving away from his more traditional aggressive baseline play to take the battle to Nadal.
The Spaniard’s serving against the faltering Rublev was especially impressive, as he starts gis bid to win his first season-ending title and he certainly has the ability to move Thiem around the court, and Thiem can take some solace from the fact that the last win went to him, and on hard courts.
Prediction: Thiem in three sets.
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Stefanos Tsitsipas  v Andrey Rublev  | H2H tied at 2-2 (Tour level only)
Defending champion Tsitsipas had a disappointing start to his campaign, not least of which watching a 4-1 lead in the first set tie-break evaporate, when he had certainly started the match the brighter against Thiem.
Either way it was more of a fight than what proved to be the slightly self-destructive debut of Rublev who seemed to over-press and perhaps just left the occasion get the better of him.
He ruefully admitted that while he holds the highest number of titles in 2020, and most match wins, he rarely has come up against the big guys and it showed. Certainly, in terms of their head to head, this looks a lot more like it will be in Rublev’s wheelhouse.
Tsitsipas acknowledged that Thiem’s key to success was taking time on his serve and putting him under pressure on his second serve. Rublev just looked like he was trying to go for too much and needs to curb the more hyper-aggressive nature of his game to cut down on the errors and focus on the points in hand.
Prediction: Tsitsipas in three sets.
Play begins on Day 3 of the Nitto ATP Finals at 12pm (BST).
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