A Look at the ATP World Tour Finals
The ATP World Tour Finals begin in London today and all eyes will be on Novak Djokovic. Having reclaimed the World No 1 spot last week, he will be leading the players this week and looking to end his season on a high.
It has been a difficult season for Djokovic. He dropped to No 22 in the rankings earlier in the year, and has had to claw himself back to the top. Now he will be looking to cement his position and cap his comeback by winning the prestigious tournament.
Speaking after he returned to the No 1 spot after two years Djokovic said, “Reflecting on what I’ve been through in the last year, it’s quite a phenomenal achievement. And, of course, I’m very, very happy and proud about it. Five months ago, if you told me that, I would be — I always believe in myself, but it was highly improbable at that time considering my ranking and the way I played and felt on the court.”
Djokovic missed the later part of the 2017 season, including the ATP Tour Finals, due to an elbow injury. In the end, he had to have surgery on it after the Australian Open. However, since then he has turned things around in style. His hard-fought five set win over Rafael Nadal took five and a quarter hours, but it seemed to instantly change Djokovic’s season. Since the beginning of Wimbledon Djokovic has enjoyed a 31 – 2 record that fans will find very familiar from his days of dominance.
He also became the first man to complete a career sweep of all nine Masters 1000 Series titles by winning the Cincinnati Masters in August, either side of major titles at Wimbledon and the US Open, he then went on to add his fourth Shanghai Masters title in October.
While Djokovic was clearly tired when he lost to Karen Khachanov in the final of the Paris Masters last week, he is still the clear favourite to win in London. At present, Djokovic is level with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendle with five title wins at the tournament, however, he will have his eyes on Federer’s record seven, and will view this as an excellent opportunity to close the gap.
Boris Becker, Djokovic’s former coach and a three-time champion, has described the Tour Finals as being harder than the Grand Slam tournament. With the top eight in the world competing in the final event of the season, it gives players no chance to rest. The eight players are slotted into two different groups and then go through a round robin format. The top two then qualify for the semi-finals. It stands out from other tennis tournaments as players do not begin matches with a clean slate. Every set they win, and every game they play goes into the calculation of who will progress to the final four.
Djokovic is in Group Guga Kuerten and he has been draw with John Isner, Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev. Federer is at the top of the second group, Group Lleyton Hewitt, and joining him will be Dominic Thiem, Kevin Anderson and Kei Nishikori. This tournament marks the third year in a row that eight different countries are taking part in the singles field.
There are some notable absentees from the tournament, namely World No 2 Rafael Nadal and the US Open finalist Juan Martin Del Potro. Nadal ended his season early with an abdominal injury and hasn’t played since the US Open. While Nadal is a hugely successful player with numerous titles to his name, he has never won the Tour Finals and he will be annoyed at missing the opportunity after what has been an excellent season.
However, his biggest rival, Roger Federer, who turned 37 earlier this year, is still going strong. He began the season by winning the Australian Open and shot to the World No 1 position in February. However, the second half of the season has been less impressive. He made it to the finals of the Cincinnati Masters and the Shanghai Masters, but he has only been able to win the Stuttgart Open on grass and his home tournament in Basel since.
On the other hand, while Federer is not arriving at the tournament after a run of wins, he can never be discounted and is certainly amongst the favourites going into the tournament. Furthermore, with the tournament taking place on indoor hardcourts, things could very well swing Federer’s way.
Federer will be aware that he is in the same group as Kevin Anderson, the 6’8” player who ended Federer’s Wimbledon this season. Anderson battled to victory after being two sets and match points down (in the third set) in the quarterfinals and Federer will not have forgotten. It has been an excellent year for Anderson, at 32 years old he reached his career high of World No 5 in July and he will become the first South African since Wayne Ferreira in 1995 to play in the season finale.
Also appearing at the tournament for the first time is John Isner. Isner has taken the injured Nadal’s place and he has been following almost the same career path as Anderson. He is another tall player, at 6’10, a huge server, and he came through the US college tennis setup. While both of the players have had their moments in the past, it is only recently that they have really become threats at the Grand Slams. Anderson had his breakthrough last season when he reached the US Open finals, but it has taken Isner a little longer to get there.
Isner and Anderson faced each other in the Wimbledon semi-final. It was an intense match with both players determined to reach the final. In the end, after 6 hours and 36 minutes, it was Anderson who came out on top 7-6(6), 6-7(5) 6-7(9), 6-4, 26-24. It was the longest semi-final at Wimbledon and the third longest tennis match ever. While Isner lost the match, it was another sign of his ascendance in the sport. He won his first Masters title in Miami in March, and rose to a career high of No 8 in the rankings. Regardless of what happens in London, Isner is set to end this season inside the top 10 for the first time in his career.
Thiem and Cilic will both be hoping to make their mark at the tournament. Both of them have taken part in it before. Thiem has enjoyed two wins in two tournaments, beating Gael Monfils in 2016 and Pablo Carreno Busta in 2017. Speaking recently the Austrian said, “I’ve learned a lot in each of the past two years. I’ve learned that I need to be 100 per cent from the very first ball. You don’t get any presents when you’re playing against the Top 8.”
Cilic was the runner up at the Australian Open, he is at the tournament for the fourth time and to date he has had just one win, over Nishikori in 2016. He will be starting the tournament against Alexander Zverev, who for the second year in a row has chosen to play at the ATP Finals while also being eligible to play at the Next Gen Finals.
The final player in the tournament is Japan’s Kei Nishikori, who has been enjoying an impressive comeback. He missed five months of the 2017 season due to a wrist injury and began his comeback by playing in the ATP Challenger events in January. However, it didn’t take him long to reassert himself on the men’s tour and he reached three finals, in Vienna, Tokyo, and Monte Carlo. This year he has a win-loss record of 42-19 and he finished the Race to London at No 9.
All eight of the participants have had long and difficult seasons, but this won’t stop them giving the tournament their all.
This afternoon sees Kevin Anderson take on Dominic Thiem, and Roger Federer play Kei Nishikori, with Federer and Anderson the respective favourites. Tomorrow Sverev is favourite to beat Cilic while Djokovic is favourite to defeat Isner.
Djokovic is the clear favourite to win the tournament with odds of 3/5, while Federer is some way behind at 9/4. Zverev follows with odds of 10/1, then Cilic at 12/1, Nishikori at 22/1, Thiem at 25/1, Anderson at 25/1, and Isner at 28/1.
However, all of the players will know that nothing is set in stone, and fans can be sure of an exciting week with some fantastic tennis.