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Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic on collision course at Paris Masters; Nadal returning from break


In the same half of the draw that kicks off on Monday, Rafael Nadal will be bidding for a first-ever Paris Masters title, while defending champion Novak Djokovic will be looking for a record-extending seventh.

For Nadal, he returns to the professional tour after a break he said he needed to “get things right” physically and mentally following his loss to Frances Tiafoe in the fourth round of the US Open. The euphoric highs of the first half of the season, which saw him win two Grand Slams and return to the summit of men’s tennis, have been followed by injury-ridden lows. The Spaniard needed a new treatment to treat the chronic foot injury he has suffered since 2005, and shortly after suffered a muscle tear in his abdomen, which led to his withdrawal from the Wimbledon semifinal and has affected him since.

He is looking to end his season on a high this year, on a surface he has famously struggled on. The Paris Masters is the biggest event in the leadup to the ATP Finals – a year-end championship that pits the eight best players of the year together – and both tournaments take place on indoor hardcourt. Nadal is unable to find the spin and power of his normally ferocious forehand on the quicker surfaces, and his lefty serve does not give him the edge it usually does.

In Paris, if he gets past the first hurdle, he may have to take on Denis Shapovalov in the third round, who, as the finalist in Vienna on Sunday, is having a strong finish to a streaky year. Stefanos Tsitsipas is on this side of the quarter, whose recent form is nothing to boast about either. The second seed’s draw is relatively favourable, that is if he reaches the semifinal, where he will meet his old rival.

Djokovic has proved to be tennis’s most divisive this year, and his insistent stance on refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 is not only alienating him amongst fans, but has also kept him out of two Grand Slams and many important hardcourt events in the United States. Nevertheless, his form has not shaken. He won a seventh Wimbledon title that ensured his exemption to qualify for the ATP Finals, and is currently on a seven-match winning streak with two titles in Tel Aviv and Astana.

He is, however, paying the price for his inactivity with a lower ranking. The sixth seed has a nightmare draw, starting with a potential third round against US Open semifinalist Karen Khachanov or Jannik Sinner, against whom the Serb had to overturn a two-set deficit at Wimbledon. Third seed Casper Ruud, who has been one of the biggest movers in the rankings with runner-up finishes at US Open and Roland Garros, is the highest-ranked player standing in Djokovic’s way from potentially setting up a 60th encounter against Nadal.

Carlos Alcaraz is the top seed and heavy favourite coming into the event. By far the best player of the year, the Spaniard’s rising star has not diminished since his maiden Grand Slam at the US Open, reaching the semifinal in Basel. Being the World No. 1 – in Alcaraz’s case, the youngest in the sport’s history – has its perks, and his draw suggests that. Barring the big-serving Matteo Berrettini and Hubert Hurkacz, and seventh seed Andrey Rublev (none of whom are in especially good form), he has no big tests on his side of the draw and should make the final four comfortably.

Daniil Medvedev, the best navigator of the quick indoor hardcourt surfaces over the past few years, is fresh off a triumph at the Vienna Open. But with in-form Felix Auger-Aliassime and Taylor Fritz, both of whom are vying to book a last-minute place in the ATP Finals, in his way, he has his work cut out for him to make the semifinal.

Without any major injuries, and no bans on Russians or the unvaccinated, the Paris Masters features the most stacked ATP draw since the French Open took place in the same city. The buildup to the year-end finals, as well as a potential meeting between the sport’s all-time greats, is likely to ramp up the anticipation.

Swiatek looks to end the season with a flourish

On the other end of the world, the eight best women’s players will take each other on in the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas in the United States.

Iga Swiatek, who reached last year’s event at the very last minute, qualified for the year-end championships by July this year. The overwhelming favourite after her pathbreaking season this year when she won the French Open and the US Open, the Pole has four first-time qualifiers in her way, two of whom she defeated in Grand Slam finals this year.

Coco Gauff made her first Major final this year at the French Open, and the 18-year-old’s steady rise on the tour has made her a force. She will be Swiatek’s biggest threat in the group stage, which also contains Daria Kasatkina and Caroline Garcia.

Ons Jabeur, the World No. 2 and runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open, is the biggest threat on the other group, which also features Jessica Pegula, Maria Sakkari and Aryna Sabalenka. Jabeur has had heartbreaking losses this year, and been in Swiatek’s shadow for most of the year, but a WTA Finals could be the crowning triumph of what has been a landmark season for her too.





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