8 of the world’s top 9 players descend on the Artist-formerly-known-as-the-Millennium-Dome this weekend as the ATP Tour Finals take place. This year’s finale comes two weeks earlier than usual; great news for those who have long campaigned for a shorter season. Let’s hope this change is justified and that the players arrive in much sharper fitness than in previous years. It would be nice if next Monday night’s final was between the best two players, rather than merely the last two standing.
Rafael Nadal’s absence gives opportunity to Jarko Tipsarevic, who performed well last year as an alternate. It is just reward for a man who continues to perform more and more consistently every year – he always had the talent and was always a dangerous floater in any draw but his performances over the last 18 months mean he is now becoming a contender to be the best of the rest. His swashbuckling style will mean that all of his matches this week will be well worth a watch for any neutral.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was the other player who left it late to book his London spot. His year has been solid enough but not as successful as his 2011 season. Tsonga has failed to kick on in a year when I fully expected him to at least reach a Grand Slam or Olympic final. The cold hard facts for Tsonga are that he is getting no younger and Murray and Djokovic look likely to continue being better than him and being much more consistent than him. The gap has not narrowed – it has got much, much wider.
Tomas Berdych arrives in Britain on the back of an impressive autumn. After first round defeats at Wimbledon and in the Olympics, Berdych looked in danger of slipping down the rankings. But he has steadied the ship and was unfortunate to have to play Murray in the New York semis on a ridiculously windy day which unfortunately spoiled what would have been a classic. The slower indoor courts in London may well suit Berdych’s game and I do not rule him out from a final appearance nine days from now, despite being put in the same group as Murray and Djokovic. If he comes out of that group, expect him to reach that final.
Juan-Martin Del Potro is back to full fitness and could have a massive 2013 ahead of him. He is the man with the game to take it to Murray, Federer, Djokovic and a fit Nadal. If Nadal continues to struggle next season, the smart money is on JMDP to be a staple of the last 4 in Grand Slam events. As things stand now, I put him as one of three men who can win the Australian Open next month, along with Murray and Djokovic. His recent victory over Federer in Basel leaves him in good fettle and one had to marvel at his delight at coming out victorious over Djokovic in the Olympics Bronze Medal match. JMDP has the ability to knock any of the top guys off the court – is he capable of doing it back-to-back? When fully fit and confident, yes I think he is.
David Ferrer is the sport’s Mr Consistency; 2 Grand Slam semi-finals this year with appearances in the last eight in the other two are testament to this. He is enjoying as fine an Indian Summer in his career as he could have dreamed of. His durability is the key to his game – I sometimes wonder what he could achieve if he actually thought he could beat the Top 3 or 4. After a favourable draw, Ferrer could feature in the last 4 this week, which will represent a solid end to another impressive year for the 30-year-old Spaniard.
I get the impression that Roger Federer is not going to pull up trees this week in London. His year has been an unqualified triumph. He won his 17th Grand Slam title and regained the Number 1 spot, before going on to become the man who has held that slot for the longest in Open history, a figure which now stands at over 300 weeks. Incredible. He is going for a hat-trick in London – he has not lost a match at the Championships since 2009. However, if anybody will come into this tournament feeling drained from his year’s efforts, it will be Federer. But it would be foolish to completely write him off (he has been placed in the weaker group which will help his cause) and I would be delighted to be eating my words in a week’s time if Federer poses with his 7th Tour Finals trophy. Yes, it would be his 7th. Incredible is often the best word to fully appreciate this man’s career.
Andy Murray will count on more home support than ever as he attempts to cap off a remarkable year for British tennis. His summer success seems to have inspired the country’s top 2 women with Laura Robson and Heather Watson both reaching WTA finals, the latter winning hers, since Murray lifted the US Open trophy. His early loss in Paris last week will have actually served him well. He will arrive in London fresh and ready to win his first Tour Finals. Murray has a difficult draw in Group A alongside Djokovic and Berdych but if he gets out of the group, which he should, he can take his place in his first final at the event. One thing is for certain, he arrives in better shape than he did a year ago, when he pulled out after his first match loss to David Ferrer.
Novak Djokovic is the man to beat in this tournament. He will end the year back on top of the world when he takes over from Federer in the rankings during the tournament. His year has been a resounding success. In an era where we are blessed with so many fantastic players, he was never going to be able to match his amazing 2011, but he has backed it up this season with one Grand Slam and two final appearances in others. Whilst Federer and Murray shared the summer plaudits, and rightly so, it is right and fitting that the Serb will finish the year as the top-ranked player in the world. He is there to be fired at, he knows that a victory in London will validate that spot but also knows that a victory for Murray or Federer will give that player scope to believe that they are the best player in the world right now. Like Murray, Djokovic lost early in Paris and should be fresh. It may not be the bravest of predictions but I tip Djokovic to prove he is still the best player in the world for now and end 2012 as Number 1 and with his second ATP Tour Finals trophy in his locker.