ATP Finals: Djokovic Looks to Avoid Early Slip Up4 min read
Alex Zverev v Marin Cilic (1400 GMT)
Zverev has won the last five meetings between these two, including two on indoor hard. One of those was here 12 months ago.
Admittedly their matches tend to be close – hardly a surprise given both have strong serves – but that is another problem for Cilic.
He could have won that clash at The O2 last season but got tight and he’s been showing the same tendency in recent weeks, losing to some weak opponents from seemingly unbeatable positions.
Cilic has struggled here, going 1-8 across his three previous visits, and so I’m a tad surprised to find Zverev offered at 5/6.
Yes, he’s suffered some upset results during the autumn but he’s also won plenty of matches too, making the semi-finals in Basel and Shanghai, and the last eight in Paris.
In my book, the German should be a shorter favourite than he is.
A three-set win for Zverev at 3/1 is worth considering if you are after a bigger price, but arguably a better bet is the 12/5 about the first set going to a tie-break.
Three of the duo’s six previous meetings have featured a first-set tie-break and their big serves should be hard to break in the quick conditions which saw Kevin Anderson hold serve without facing a break point on Sunday.
Zverev to win –
Tie-break in first set –
Novak Djokovic v John Isner (2000 GMT)
A late stand-in for the injured Rafael Nadal, Isner will be making his tournament debut in this match.
He’s priced up as the biggest outsider of the opening round of group matches but I’m not discounting the big man’s chances with his fearsome serve likely to earn him many free points against all of his opponents here.
History shows Isner has troubled Djokovic when they’ve met before. While Djokovic has won eight of 10, five have gone to a deciding set. That immediately makes 11/4 about a three-set win for Djokovic look tempting.
I remember former world number one Jim Courier commenting on Isner’s ability to trouble Djokovic – he was making a comparison with Isner’s (weaker) performances against Andy Murray at the time. The man who captained Isner in Davis Cup for many years is a sound judge.
Critics will point out the pair haven’t played since 2015, although it can be argued Isner has improved more than Djokovic in the ensuing period.
I’m also going to try to milk the first-set tie-break market again with 17/10 looking too big about the opener going the distance.
Six of the pair’s 10 first sets have been settled by a tie-break and given the slick conditions here, both men should be dominant on serve.
Djokovic has certainly served well of late, while Isner’s delivery is well known for its consistency. Twelve of the 20 sets he’s playing during the European indoor swing this autumn have gone to a tie-break and, at the price, it’s worth paying to see if that becomes 13 of 21.
Djokovic to win 2-1 –
Tie-break in first set –