November 2, 2020

The Final Countdown

We're officially in the last stretch of this abbreviated and infinitely strange 2020 tennis season, with the last big event before the ATP Finals now underway. And with so few opportunities for players to make really big statements this year, perhaps it's no surprise that such a diverse field is hoping to close out 2020 with a strong performance at the Paris Masters.

Maybe somewhat surprisingly, all four of last week's finalists are back in the draw this week. John Millman, fresh off his first career title in Nur-Sultan, opens his campaign against a tough Miomir Kecmanovic and could next face U.S. Open finalist Alexander Zverev, who, despite two straight titles in Cologne, finds himself embroiled in scandal yet again this year. And Adrian Mannarino, who he beat yesterday, looms as a potential third round.

Meanwhile Vienna (🙏) Cinderella Lorenzo Sonego, a lucky loser who jumped to a career high #32 ranking with a stunning victory over Novak Djokovic last week, starts in Paris against tricky server Alexander Bublik. And Andrey Rublev, who booked his first ticket to the year-end championship by winning the title in Austria, has a second round date with Radu Albot. He's trying to earn an inspiring sixth title this year.

Then there's under-the-radar Ugo Humbert, who picked up his second trophy of 2020 in Antwerp a few weeks ago and extended his win streak today by outlasting Casper Ruud in three sets. For his efforts, he'll be awarded a second round against second seed Stefanos Tsitsipas.

But there are a couple players in the field who are trying less to keep their recent momentum going, and more to turn around their luck. There are plenty to choose from, from David Goffin to one-time U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic. But highest on my list is Daniil Medvedev, who I thought last year would be virtually unstoppable against the top players. He's been rather lackluster in 2020, making the semis at the U.S. Open, but losing his first round at Roland Garros. He could potentially face off against Kevin Anderson, who beat him last week in Vienna, in the second round and while the South African is certainly well of his best game, he might be able to pull off an upset.

And of course, I can't leave out Diego Schwartzman, who's certainly won a lot of hearts with his performance this year. The Argentine, who stunned Rafael Nadal in Rome and made the French Open semis, has the ATP Finals in his sights for the first time in his career and would clinch it with a final appearance in Paris. He hasn't suffered a lot of upsets recently and with Medvedev the only other seed in his quarter, he could make a real play for the finish line.

Of course, there are a couple notable names absent from the Paris Masters draw this year, which could create some opportunities for spoilers. Some of that comes down to the COVID-altered ranking methodology, which allows players to count points from the better of their performances at an event in either this year or last. That's why Novak Djokovic, who won the title last year in Paris, had no incentive to defend those points and chose instead to lock in a year-end #1 with a couple wins in Vienna last week. Then there are players like Dominic Thiem, injured during his quarter final last week, who pulled out just before the draw was announced, and Gael Monfils, red-hot before the shutdown and winless since, who said he was ending his season last week.

Can the slew of lucky losers in the draw take advantage of those openings? Could top seeded Rafael Nadal take home his first hard court title in Paris -- how weird to think he's had such vastly different results in the same city?!

Whatever the case, it'll be interesting to see if these players can close out the year on a high note. While, at the end of the day, their performances may not be what we remember most about 2020, for each of them, this is a great opportunity to start to write a new story.

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