Bet of the Day: Djokovic to beat Thiem in ATP Finals showdown

14th September 2021

With one cycle of matches now elapsed, it is possible to make some observations about the ATP finals at London’s O2 Arena. For one thing, the two most successful male players in tennis history are certainly vulnerable. Last night’s straight-sets defeat for Rafael Nadal at the hands of defending champion Alex Zverev followed on the heels of Roger Federer’s similarly brief and unsuccessful outing against his Alpine rival, Dominic Thiem. For Thiem, tonight’s action at the former Millennium Dome offers the chance to claim a second upset win in as many matches – but he’ll need to dig deep if he is to overcome Novak Djokovic on a hard court.

This evening’s match in the men’s singles marks the tenth time that Djokovic, the current Wimbledon and Australian Open title holder, will have met French Open finalist Thiem. Of the previous nine occasions, Thiem has a decent record of three wins – but all of those have come on his preferred surface of red clay. Of their five hard-court appointments, the Serbian has won every time, including in 2016 in their only previous meeting at the ATP finals, when the match went to three sets. This encounter could, also, heavily influence who wins the Bjorn Borg group given that both Djokovic and Thiem won their opening matches here.

Surface plays into Djokovic’s hands

Tennis is, in the main, played across three surfaces. As of this moment, it has three living legends playing an active part on the ATP tour, and each of the three is considered a master of one of those surfaces. If Federer is the king on grass, and Nadal the dominant force on clay (and twelve career titles in the French Open suggest he might be), then Djokovic is most at home on hard court. And while he tends to be more comfortable on outdoor hard courts, he’d surely agree that there is a time and a place for outdoor tennis. November in London is not it.

Thiem, for his part, is more of a clay-courter, preferring to let points build before landing a killer blow; he won’t get that chance here, so the Austrian will need to change his game up a little. He was successful in doing so against Federer, but this match is a different matter and the world Number 5 will need to go above and beyond to pick up a win here. He could hope for his opponent to lose focus, but a 6-2, 6-1 win over Matteo Berrettini suggests that Djokovic has shown up in the mood to play. BetVictor are offering odds of 5/6 that the first set here will take fewer than 9.5 games to decide. Unless Thiem delivers his highest level, that’s entirely possible.

Thiem an outsider, but not a nobody

Novak Djokovic comes into this match off the back of an easy opening win and with the Paris Masters title in his luggage, making him very much the form player among the eight individuals vying for the men’s singles trophy. That makes tonight’s match an undeniably tall order for Thiem, and yet it could be argued that the gap between the players is being overstated. As already noted, they’ve met once before in this tournament – and on that occasion, the underdog took a set off his more-vaunted opponent.

There is a danger attached to writing off one of the “mortals” when they come up against the world’s best players. In most eras, a player of Thiem’s quality would likely by now have at least one major tournament to his name. He has had the misfortune to come to the fore in an era where his rivals include three of the best ever to play the game, but he’s still a challenge for those players. If he repeats his performance of 2016, then Grosvenor’s odds of 5/4 on him to win with a (+1.5) start on his rival here would be very much worth taking – and a strong showing against Federer indicates that Thiem hasn’t come here for sight-seeing.

An entertaining match between two motivated players

By the time these two take to the court, they will already know the result of the other match in the Borg group, with Federer taking on Bennettini at 14:00 this afternoon. Should the Italian pull off a surprise win, the winner here would be almost guaranteed a spot in the semi-finals, so there is plenty of motivation here for two such prominent players. While the Belgrade-born Djokovic comes into the night as handy favourite, history dictates that it would be foolish to write his opponent off entirely.

It’s more than possible that Thiem, flush with confidence from his successful outing against the most successful player ever in the men’s game, will provide a challenge that Djokovic needs to battle hard to overcome. As such, the odds of 5/2 at Paddy Power – that the Serbian wins, but both players take at least a set – are absolutely worth a look. It’s probably too much to expect the Austrian to win, but he’ll give it a lash for sure.

Bets of the Day

Djokovic to win and both players win a set (Paddy Power, 5/2); Thiem (+1.5) to win handicap match (Grosvenor, 5/4); First set <9.5 games (BetVictor, 5/6)

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