The ATP season comes to a close in November, but not before one more exciting event ranging November 11-18. The top eight healthy players will gather in London for a unique tournament – the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals. In this tournament, players are divided into two groups of four, playing each opponent in their group once before the top two from each section advance to the semifinals, after which a traditional single-elimination format is used. While Novak Djokovic has wrapped up the No. 1 ranking with Rafael Nadal pulling out due to an abdominal injury and needing ankle surgery (Juan Martin del Potro's also out with a knee injury), there are still plenty of intriguing storylines here and many ranking points at stake. When reading the preview below, keep in mind that the group breakdown is as follows: (2) Roger Federer, (4) Kevin Anderson, (6) Dominic Thiem and (7) Kei Nishikori in one section, (1) Novak Djokovic, (3) Alexander Zverev, (5) Marin Cilic, (8) John Isner in the other.
Roger Federer - Not only will Federer be motivated to win his 100th career title, but he's had plenty of success in this tournament with six of his first 99 coming at the ATP Finals. The indoor hard court surface plays right into his hands as an aggressive player, and Federer got a favorable draw with Zverev landing in Djokovic's round-robin group. Djokovic's 31-2 record since Wimbledon makes him such a prohibitive favorite that it isn't even worth its own section here, but the only reason someone might take the rest of the pack over Djokovic is because that pack contains Federer.
Alexander Zverev - Zverev is vulnerable in the best-of-five format at Grand Slams, but the youngster is already outstanding in best-of-three set matches. He doesn't need to beat Djokovic to advance to the semifinals, and he should fancy his chances against anyone else in this tournament. As far as the other two guys in his group go, Zverev is 5-1 against Cilic and 4-1 against Isner. You can think of the players in the draw as falling into three tiers: 1. Djokovic, 2. Federer/Zverev and 3. Everyone else.
John Isner - It's an amazing feat to qualify for the ATP Finals, so Isner should be proud to have done so. That being said, neither his stats on this surface nor his head-to-head records bode well for his chances here. The big server went 21-13 on hard courts this season for a .618 winning percentage and 6-4 indoors for a .600 mark, both lowest among all players in the draw. He's also just 6-19 combined against Djokovic, Cilic and Zverev.
Kei Nishikori - Nishikori's played well in general of late, but his last three losses have all come against opponents in this group – two to Federer and one to Anderson. He also has wins over Anderson and Thiem in that stretch, but he's 2-3 against that pair overall this season and 0-2 against Federer. With the serve-reliant Federer and Anderson both benefiting from the indoor conditions, Nishikori will have a hard time grinding out enough points to take them down. He matches up better with Thiem, but Thiem has a better chance of beating the other guys in the group, as highlighted below.
Dominic Thiem - Thiem is arguably the least accomplished hard-court player in this tournament, but he boasts one advantage nobody else in his group has: a winning record over Federer. Sure, he lost their only hard-court meeting, but Thiem did beat Federer on grass, which is probably an even worse matchup for the Austrian on paper. Thiem's also 2-6 against Kevin Anderson lifetime but won both of their meetings this year, including a straight-sets hard court clinic at the US Open. While nobody's giving Thiem much of a chance to advance, that underdog status could work in his favor given that nobody besides Federer stands out as a clear favorite to make it out of this group.