ATP World Tour Finals Round Robin preview: Novak Djokovic vs Dominic Thiem

Four-time defending ATP World Tour Finals champion Novak Djokovic returns to London looking to retain his title and regain his world number one ranking in the process. He takes on debutant Dominic Thiem in the first match scheduled in the Ivan Lendl Group on Sunday.

ATP World Tour Finals Round Robin preview: Novak Djokovic vs Dominic Thiem
Djokovic and Thiem at the net following their most recent encounter at the semifinals stage of the French Open in June (Photo by Clive Brunskill / Getty Images)

World number two Novak Djokovic has struggled during the second part of 2016 which has seen him lose his world number one ranking to Andy Murray. The five-time ATP World Tour Finals champion usually finds an extra gear during the autumn swing but it hasn't worked out for him this year. Nonetheless, the Serb is determined to return the summit at the end of these Championships in London.

Eighth seed Dominic Thiem will be making his debut appearance at the ATP World Tour Finals, thanks to a heavy schedule and fine performances in 2016. However, Thiem has struggled during the second half of the season due to the busy schedule which has taken its toll on the young Austrian.

Both players are drawn in the Ivan Lendl Group which also includes fourth seed and this year's Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic, and another debutant in sixth seed Gael Monfils.

Djokovic's notable results leading up to London

Following the conclusion of losing his US Open title to Stan Wawrinka in four sets, historically Djokovic's most successful part of the season was on the horizon.

The Serb returned to Shanghai, receiving a bye in the first round and defeated Fabio Fognini and Vasek Pospisil in the opening two rounds to reach the quarterfinals. In the quarterfinals, the world number two was two points from defeat against Mischa Zverev, but the Serb survived and triumphed 3-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3. However, in the semifinals, Roberto Bautista Agut, who played scintillating tennis against Djokovic at the French Open was able to defeat Djokovic in straight sets.

The three-time defending champion had a tough draw at the final Masters 1000 event  of the year at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris. Djokovic received a bye in the first round but was up against tricky left-hander Gilles Muller and it was a straight sets victory for him. In the third round, Djokovic played 2014 Wimbledon semifinalist Grigor Dimitrov, who has struggled the past couple of years but has seemed to find his best tennis again. The Serb was a set and a break down and received medical treatment during this match, nonetheless, he recovered to defeat the charismatic Bulgarian, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3. 

Unfortunately, Djokovic suffered his first loss in Paris since a shock exit at the hands of Sam Querrey in 2012, and this time it was 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic who ended his run in Paris. It allowed Murray to claim the world number one ranking as the Brit had to make the final at least with Djokovic failing to do that.

Djokovic lifting his fifth ATP World Tour Finals trophy last year (Photo by Julian Finney / Getty Images)
Djokovic lifting his fifth ATP World Tour Finals trophy last year (Photo by Julian Finney / Getty Images)

Thiem's notable results leading up to London

2016 has been a breakthrough year for Thiem as the Austrian reached his first Grand Slam semifinal this year at the French Open, losing to a certain Novak Djokovic. Nonetheless, the 23-year-old has achieved a career-high ranking of number seven back in June and is currently ranked at nine in the world.

Whilst most of Thiem's colleagues in the top ten selected tournaments for the correct preparation for Grand Slams and bigger tournaments, Thiem would be playing as many matches as possible. The Austrian has participated in a staggering 26 events in 2016 with four titles to his name. It eventually caught up with Thiem at the US Open, who had a good opportunity to reach the quarterfinals at Flushing Meadows, even though he was against 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro. The eighth seed, unfortunately, had to withdraw due to injury but following that heartbreak, he lost to Lucas Pouille in the final in Metz a few weeks later.

Thiem had to play a lot of tournaments to ensure his qualification for the ATP World Tour Finals but the results were not up to his standards.

A quarterfinal finish in Chengdu, a first round loss to Alexander Zverev in Beijing, followed by a second round exit in his hometown of Vienna losing to Viktor Troicki and he lost his first match in Paris to Jack Sock

Thiem was sweating on his qualification to London but had to thank Andy Murray and Marin Cilic for eliminating his opponents who had an outside chance of qualifying. 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal's withdrawal from London also helped his caused, nonetheless, the Austrian has earned the right to be here.

Thiem with his trophy after beating Murray in
Thiem with his trophy after beating Murray in "Tie-break Tens" (Photo by Jordan Mansfield / Getty Images)

Their history

Djokovic and Thiem have met on three occasions and the world number two leads 3-0 without dropping a set in the process, they have met twice on hard courts and once on clay. The 12-time Grand Slam champion won their first meeting in Shanghai back in 2014, registering a 6-3, 6-4 victory. Thiem competed well in their second encounter in the fourth round stage of the Miami Open this year, but he was unable to maintain his good level of tennis.

Thiem and Djokovic shake hands at the net following their fourth round encounter at the Miami Open (Photo by Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)
Thiem and Djokovic shake hands at the net following their fourth round encounter at the Miami Open (Photo by Matthew Stockman / Getty Images)

Djokovic won that contest 6-3, 6-4, and their most recent meeting was in the semifinals of the French Open this year. However, this match was played on Court Suzanne Lenglen due to the continuous rain delays throughout the tournament, and the organisers wanted to finish the event on time. It was a scintillating match from Djokovic and unfortunately, Thiem was fatigued and was unable to live with the Serb who won 6-2, 6-1, 6-4 and went on to clinch his first French Open title.

Who wins?

Both players are not in the richest vein of form at the moment, however, you know what to expect from Djokovic and that is a response. Thiem needs a rest but he is here to compete and give it his all in this match with the world number two. Djokovic plays well indoor but he will need to serve well, remain aggressive on the baseline and come to the net which he does well. Thiem has a wonderful right-handed, one-handed backhand which has done so much damage to his opponents throughout the year, and that will need to firing on all cylinders if he is to have a chance.

The Serb may not be the world number one currently but he is the favorite to retain his title and reclaim his ranking that he held for 122 consecutive weeks. The eighth seed will need to serve well and tried serve to Djokovic's body because the Serb is one of the best returners in the world, and the task will become increasingly difficult for Thiem to win if he is not serving well.

This is the first match scheduled in the Ivan Lendl Group at not before 2pm local time on Centre Court, and both players will want to get off to a winning start.

Prediction: Djokovic in straight sets