ATP Finals: Djokovic in Cruise Mode as Others Struggle6 min read
Alex Zverev v John Isner (1400 GMT)
Despite two losses so far, Isner is very much still alive heading into this match.
A straight-sets would will leave him in pole position to qualify – in that scenario Marin Cilic would need to beat Novak Djokovic to deny him a semi-final spot.
However, Isner has never beaten Zverev in straight sets and while it’s far from impossible, I’m not expecting it to happen here.
The head-to-head shows Zverev leading 4-1 – Isner’s only win coming in the Miami final earlier this year – and significantly the stats show he’s dealt pretty well with the American’s usually fiendish serve.
Zverev has broken the Isner delivery on 10 occasions (from 22 break points) in those five matches, while Isner has broken serve only four times.
Isner didn’t create a single break point in their last meeting in Madrid; neither did he in Rome last year. However, it is worth noting he has actually created more break-point chances (25) overall; it’s converting them that’s been the issue.
Those stats have resulted in Zverev, who has actually out-aced Isner in two of their five encounters, managing to claim six sets (of the nine he’s won) without the need for a tie-break.
It is this that leads me towards my bet for the match – under 10.5 games in the first set at 9/10.
Isner, who has broken serve only once this week while conceding his own delivery six times, has given up break-point chances in his opening service game in both matches so far. Another sloppy start could prove crucial here.
Even if that doesn’t happen, history suggests both men are capable of creating break opportunities – the figures show they come at a rate of just under four per set.
With the line set at 10.5, the vast majority of the set is available for a break to arrive and while we could see two breaks cancel each other out, the stats suggest that’s unlikely.
The other possibility is backing Zverev at 21/20 on the -2.5 game handicap – three of his four wins over Isner have come this way.
However, the first-set bet at a slightly smaller price carries the safety net of Isner grabbing a break and going to claim the set – something which would likely scupper the odds-against shot.
Under 10.5 games in first set –
Novak Djokovic v Marin Cilic (2000 GMT)
The issue to be aware of here is that this contest could be a dead rubber.
Indeed it will be if Zverev wins the afternoon match. In that scenario, Djokovic will have already won the group with Zverev runner-up and Cilic out. The latter’s hopes rest on Isner winning in the afternoon session. If that is the case, Djokovic will need to win to top the group; Cilic will need to win to qualify.
Djokovic holds a huge 16-2 advantage in the pair’s head to head (it’s 3-1 on indoor hard), but their 2018 meetings suggest this could at least be close.
Their three matches – all played on a fairly fast surface, as will be the case here – have gone to a final set with Cilic actually winning one of them, the Queen’s Club final. He was also a break up in the third in Cincinnati and took the first set in Paris.
With this in mind, Djokovic to win in three sets – a 3/1 shot – will have its backers.
But that only looks a bet if the match has something riding on it.
If it does not, then perhaps a big price about Cilic is worth chancing.
He’s clearly managed to trouble Djokovic with his return this season and it was that aspect of his game which impressed during Wednesday’s victory over Isner.
If the match has nothing riding on it and Cilic claims the first set – as he did in similar conditions in Paris just a couple of weeks ago – then will Djokovic really be up for the fight knowing his semi-final is coming less than 24 hours later?
This factor means a tentative play on a straight-sets Cilic win at 17/2 could be worthwhile.
He feels the pressure more than many but in a dead rubber there will be little of that and it could well result in him playing some of his best tennis. If up against an opponent lacking motivation, he’s capable of bringing home the bacon.
Cilic to win 2-0 (if Zverev has won in the afternoon) –
Djokovic to win 2-1 (if Isner has won in the afternoon) –