‘The end is here’ ‘The Final showdown’ ‘The Stage Is Set’ ‘Insert overdramatic cliché’. Yes, ATP overkill at its finest. But cynicism aside, I am of course looking forward to the season ending shindig in London. It is a pleasure to see the best players in the world battle it out for a colossal sum of money and ranking points. Not bad for a week’s work, that’s for sure.
There is little change in the line-up since last year’s event, with Nadal and Ferrer replacing Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic in the eight man field, although Ferrer was an alternate last year. The event is a great yardstick of both season long consistency, but even more so of longevity. This shall be Berdych’s sixth straight year of qualification, Ferrer’s fifth, Djokovic’s ninth and one Mr Roger Federer’s fifteenth. The other four meanwhile have all made multiple appearances, again a testament to the depth and quality atop the men’s game.
On the subject of depth and quality, Novak Djokovic stands a head higher than even his closest competitors at the event, and as I breakdown the draws and offer my thoughts, it becomes clear: All roads pass through Novak in the quest to haul in the trophy a week from Sunday.
This group, consisting of Djokovic, Federer, Berdych and Nishikori, is for me the more likely of the two to see the big names advancing.
Novak leads Berdych a lopsided 20-2 in their head to head, never having lost to the Czech on a hard court. Berdych has enjoyed some form this autumn, but even his biggest shots seem to make little indentations in the Serb’s defences. Nishikori has enjoyed a bit more success against Djokovic, winning two of their six matches, including at the US Open last year. In addition, Nishikori pushed Novak at the World Tour Finals last year in one of the few matches that weren’t duds. With Kei’s lack of matches lately though, and Djokovic’s imperious form, I suspect Djokovic to come through these two hassle free.
Federer, although not as dominant over the afore mentioned pair as Djokovic, still enjoys healthy head to heads against both. Against Berdych the Swiss leads 14-6. Berdych does not seem to have as big a block against Roger compared to the more defensive members of the ‘big four’, his big game when clicking can overcome him, including twice in Slams. Federer has not lost to Tomas though since an injury plagued 2013, winning the last three matches. I think Berdych could trouble the Swiss, especially when one looks at his recent loss to the big hitting Isner in Paris, but the court in London has in recent years yielded a slower bounce, which should aid Federer in nullifying Berdych’s power.
What of the marquee matchup between the two most successful players of the season? It seems strange for Novak and Roger to meet in the round robin stage of the tournament, but that is the nature of rolling rankings and contributes towards the excitement of this unique event. There is little to choose between the pair going into the tournament, Federer triumphing in Basel, Djokovic a week later in Paris. Both are in fine fettle, and play some of their best indoors. Based on his sheer dominance in the last few months, Novak for me edges their encounter.
Group Winner: Djokovic
Group Runner Up: Federer
The other group, consisting of Murray, Wawrinka, Nadal and Ferrer, offers more in the way of unpredictability and intrigue than the first.
Murray is in a rich vein of form, reaching the Paris Masters final before falling tamely to Djokovic. He will benefit from home crowd support, and is a fine indoor player. Although trailing Nadal 6-15 in their head to head, this is not the same Nadal of late, Murray beating him on the home clay of Madrid in their last meeting this year. Murray has had a better season, and I think in terms of speed, fitness and form the Scot starts out as favourite against Rafa. In his last meeting with Ferrer, recently in Paris, he overcame him in two straight forward sets, and leads their series 11-5, as well as having won their last three indoor meetings. Ferrer has enjoyed a successful autumn, but Murray would start as a clear favourite. Murray’s match with Wawrinka should prove to be the hardest. While he leads the Swiss 8-4, Stan won their last two encounters in 2013, and they have not met since in a period where he became a two time slam winner. I would not be surprised to see Wawrinka power through the Scot, as he did last time they met.
Stan Wawrinka comes to London having enjoyed the best year of his career. Nadal was long a nemesis for him, leading their head to head 13-3. Stan has put things to rights in recent years however, winning three of their last four meetings, including on Nadal’s beloved clay earlier this year, and then in two pulsating sets in Paris in similar conditions to London last week. If Wawrinka hits his offensive stride, I see him edging the Spaniard. Against Ferrer meanwhile, Stan, whilst trailing 6-7, he has won their last three meetings. Ferrer can certainly hang in there with the more powerful Swiss, still prone to bouts of inconsistency, but Stan remains the favourite.
Nadal has done well in making the finals in London, having a rather modest year by his lofty standards, winning just three minor titles. He has qualified the hard way, but qualified all the same. He has shown some good form in the indoor season, stretching Federer, perhaps the greatest indoor player in history, to three sets in the Basel Final, before falling in a tight quarterfinal last week in Paris. I have already above given two opponents an edge over Nadal in his group, and I struggle to see him making the semi-finals this year. All the same, it would be a great end to the year for Nadal to score a win against his friend and rival, the dogged David Ferrer. Rafa enjoys a 23-6 lead in their matches, and won their sole meeting this year in Monte Carlo. Ferrer is nevertheless an effective indoor player, coming into London with two trophies at indoor events. Furthermore, four of his six wins against his compatriot were on hard courts, two of them indoors. This match represents both men’s best chances of a win in London, and the accompanying $167,000 and 200 ranking points. Expect an entertaining slugfest in their final encounter of the year.
Group Winner: Murray
Group Runner Up: Wawrinka
Federer Defeats Murray
Djokovic Defeats Wawrinka
Djokovic Defeats Federer
Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): Marianne Bevis