The ATP season comes to a head next week in London as the top 8 players compete for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals title.
In past years there has been at least some intrigue coming into this event as Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal have come for their yearly showdown. And though there has been a change atop the ATP hierarchy with the emergence of Djokovic from their shadow, there is no sought-after showdown for this year’s edition. I don’t think there’s going to be much intrigue as Roger is my clear favorite to take the top honors over Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal, and Andy Murray.
Let’s take a moment to preview the participating players in this year’s championships and outline their paths (or not) to the semifinals.
The groups for the Round Robin part of the event have been drawn. I’ll list the player and their chances at taking this last title of 211.
There’s no need for me to write more than has already been written about the phenomenally successful year Nole has enjoyed on tour in 2011. He has won 10 titles: 3 on clay, 1 on grass, and 6 on hardcourt. He’s amassed a 69-4 record, entering in 18 events and winning 10 of them. 3 of the 10 were Grand Slam titles (Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open).
I could spew more numbers but I think you get the picture. A win next week in London would have capped his year with the undeniable stamp of the greatest season ever. Alas, with a withdrawal in his last event and struggles with injury since his epic win over Rafa at the US Open, I can’t see him making it through the Round Robin portion of the week.
Nole will have 3 tough matches against Andy Murray, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych to determine whether or not he will progress to the semifinals. And with his battered and broken body that has already let him down numerous times this fall, that’s way too tall of an order.
Expect Janko Tipsarevic, the event alternate, to get in some playing time…
I’d like to think that Andy Murray could do some damage at this event, given his strong showing this fall during the Asian swing. With the absence of Nole and Roger, and with only a battered Rafa to stop him, Andy reeled off 3 straight tournament wins in Bangkok, Tokyo, and Shanghai.
BUT, and there is almost always a “but” with Andy, his last loss came to of his fellow group member Tomas Berdych in Paris. The nature of that loss wasn’t pretty, either. Andy pretty much choked at the end of the deciding third set to lose serve at 4-all, allowing Tomas to serve out the match.
As well, the “bad attitude ” Andy was in full force. And you have to believe that a positive mindset will always win over a negative one with these guys. Expect Andy to make the semifinals, and maybe even the finals. But that will be all unfortunately.
“The Little Engine That Could” has done it again and qualified for the season-ending championships with strong and steady play throughout the year. It has even been written that a stepped up serve and improved return game are at the core of his fine play.
That might very well be the case. But in this group of guys, he is going to need to redline his game in every match. And in comparison, he doesn’t have the weaponry to get through his group and into the semifinals. He’s 4-6 against Nole, and 3-5 against Andy.
Surprisingly he is 5-2 versus Tomas, but that last win came in 2010. History helps, but Tomas is playing well. David has a slight chance to make it through if Nole drops out and he continues his run over Berdych. A long shot, but don’t we all love to support the underdog? :-)
The hard-hitting Czech has a new girlfriend (he and Lucie Safarova called it quits this summer) and a renewed game. Coincidence? Maybe. But I’m sure it never hurts to look up and see a model rooting for you. He’ll need a bit more to make it to the semifinals.
He has losing records against both Ferrer and Djokovic, but has a 3-1 edge over Andy. He will also need to play his best tennis and cut down on the errors if he wants to make it through to the semis.
I’m not sure how this is going to play out for Rafa. It’s been a tough year for the former #1. He entered 19 events and won only 3, a far cry from his 2010 campaign. He was a finalist 7 times, losing 6 of those to Djokovic. On paper he doesn’t come in as any kind of favorite.
Much of his results will depend on how well-rested he is physically and mentally at this stage of the year. In Japan he got bageled by Murray in the third set, and in Shanghai he slumped out to Florian Mayer in his second match. This is definitely not how he prefers to prepare for big events. But this is Rafa we are talking about, and if he can rise to the occasion physically and not retreat behind the baseline, he always has a chance.
He should make it to the semifinals with Roger. Jo-Willy has played well this fall, but I still see Rafa finding a way to get by him in the Round Robin match. He will also get by Mardy with no issues. Winning the whole thing? Not likely. But he will want to work on his match toughness for the Davis Cup finals, and this will help him.
The man to beat!!! No matter how you dissect the groups, there aren’t many scenarios that don’t end with Federer making the semifinals and winning the event for a record sixth time. He’s well-rested, fit, and confident after title wins in Basel and Paris.
It’s remarkable to see him performing so well (again) at this stage in the calendar year at this stage in his career. He doesn’t need to care as much as he does and put in the work… but he does it anyway. A run to the finals would give him his 100th career final appearance, and the title would be his 70th. if that’s not the GOAT, then I don’t know what else he could (besides end his career with a winning record over Rafa) to cement his status. But really, does he have anything left to prove? No.
As the Aussies would say, “Good on ya!” for making it to the final eight. And that’s where it will end for him unless he plays the type of masterful tennis he played at Wimbledon to beat Roger… for every match in every round. And that’s going to be tough.
He’s also going to need help from both Roger and Rafa, with letdowns by both in Round Robin match play. Roger famously let a 2-set lead slip in his loss to Jo-Willy at Wimbledon. Rafa had a letdown loss at the Queen’s Club event. Very different conditions, but still a letdown that allowed Tsonga to prevail. I don’t see either happening, but you never know in tennis.
Mardy will be the Mary Pierce “I’m Just Happy To Be Here” participant of the event. He has had a tremendous year, entering and finishing in the top 10 for the first time in his career, and establishing himself as the top American player. He has played the kind of tennis we all knew he was capable of playing. Only one official title win, but good deep results in almost every event.
Unfortunately, Mardy is coming to London with a lingering hamstring injury that has affected his play all fall, even causing him to retire in his last two events. Hamstrings don’t heal particularly quickly, and especially when you’re older. He will give his best effort but I don’t see him making it through the Round Robin matches. Still, he has accomplished much and should feel very proud of his 2011 results.
Group A Semifinalists: Andy Murray and David Ferrer
Group B Semifinalists: Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal
Winner: Roger Federer