Now that the final tournament of the season is reaching its conclusion, the 2009 ATP Tour will culminate in the ATP World Tour Finals at London’s O2 Arena between Nov. 22 and Nov. 29, less than two weeks away.
The top eight players, their rankings taken from their year-long results on the tour, will battle it out in this exclusive finale in the hopes of becoming the year’s ultimate tennis champion. These players have produced consistently exemplary results throughout the season, thoroughly deserving their place at the O2. But who will be the ultimate champion?
Rafael Nadal of Spain was the first player to secure a spot in the end of year championships as a result of his stellar start to the season. Following on from his French Open, Wimbledon and Olympic success in 2008, Nadal continued the trend by defeating Roger Federer in an epic 5-set final at the Australian Open in early February. His hot streak continued into the Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo and Rome Masters 1000 tournaments, until he faltered in mid-May against Federer in the Masters 1000 Madrid Final.
From that point, his recurring knee problems seemed to get the better of him; he lost to Swede Robin Soderling in the fourth round of the French Open, his most lucrative tournament (he had not lost at the event in 31 matches over five years) and was unable to defend his crown at Wimbledon, pulling out with patellar tendonitis.
He rallied somewhat in August, reaching the latter stages of events in Montreal and Cincinnati, but was still not at his best at the US Open, later putting his sub-standard performances down to a painful abdominal muscle strain.
More recently, he was runner-up to Russian Nikolay Davydenko in the Masters 1000 tournament in Shanghai but there are signs that he is still not back at his peak fitness or skill level. Occupying the No. 2 spot in the world, it is evident he has high hopes for the London championship.
Roger Federer was the second player to quality for the World Tour Finals. With a somewhat shocking start to the year, that seemed to continue his run of bad results from 2008, where he suffered from mononucleosis and back strains—including his loss to Nadal at the Australian Open and a racket-smashing episode in Miami against Novak Djokovic—Federer rebounded with a vengeance in Madrid against Nadal.
He then went on to win his first ever French Open, allowing him to equal Pete Sampras’ record of 14 Slam victories and achieve a career Grand Slam. In just under two weeks, Federer followed this sweet victory with a win over Andy Roddick to clinch his 6th Wimbledon title and 15th Slam overall, signalling him as the greatest player of all time. He also returned to No.1 as a consequence of his victories and Nadal’s absence, a position that he will hold until the end of the year.
Since Federer’s amazing summer, the Swiss player’s level has plateaued somewhat, with consistent match victories but no titles. He lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the US Open Final and recently Djokovic in his home town of Basel, with an extensive break in between these two events in order to rest his weary limbs.
An early exit in the Paris 1000 event may mean that he has less match experience than preferred going into the World Tour Finals, but there is no doubt that his extended breaks from competition at the end of this season will stand him in good stead for the tiring tournament in London.
Andy Murray, from Scotland, was the third player to qualify as a result of his consistently excellent results throughout the season. He started off as the player to beat in 2009, winning an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and a tournament in Doha. His Australian Open tournament did not turn out as well as expected with an exit in the quarterfinals, but since then Murray has continued to outperform the majority of players on every surface.
In August he moved to No. 2 in the world, briefly overtaking Nadal and Djokovic—the first time someone other than Nadal or Federer had held such a prestigious position in over four years. A finalist in 2008, Murray had high hopes for his favourite Slam, the US Open, but lost to Croat Marin Cilic in three easy sets.
Throughout the back end of the season, the Scot has been suffering with a persistent wrist injury, making his ranking slip back down to No. 4; but with a win in Valencia in November, it looks as if Murray is finding form just in time for the end of year championships.
Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro and Andy Roddick occupy three other London berths. These players, too, have excellent chances at the season-ending tournament; Djokovic has been consistent throughout the year, beating many top players, and is the defending champion of the event.
Del Potro has been inspired throughout much of the hard court season in particular, with his US Open win a notable highlight and justification of his selection for the championship. Djokovic is enjoying a burst of renewed confidence, with his recent win over Roger Federer to win the Basel title and Rafael Nadal in the semifinals of the 1000 Paris event. Is he peaking just in time to defend his crown?
Andy Roddick, too, has produced stellar results, frequently reaching semifinals and finals of the biggest and best tournaments, including the Australian Open, Wimbledon and Miami.
Injuries are nevertheless a big concern for this trio; tiredness and exhaustion are playing their part, plus Roddick is suffering from a knee injury which saw his exit from Shanghai and withdrawal from Paris. Will he be fit enough in time for London? Only time will tell.
The final two players, completing the 8-man lineup, had their fates sealed in the final tournament of the year in Paris. Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco, through their own exploits and those of the other few remaining contenders, sealed their positions as 7th and 8th ranked in the world respectively.
With these eight players being so consistent in their success over the past 10 months, it is incredibly difficult this year in particular to predict the World Tour Finals champion. All players have prowess on indoor hard courts and all have shown that they can withstand the pressure of the most tense, important moments.
Andy Murray will be the home favourite, with significant column inches being reserved for the Scot’s play; however, it is difficult to ignore the experienced Federer, Nadal and Roddick in such an event, where a loss in the ’round robin’ stage does not necessarily mean the end of the player’s chances to win the event. The defending champion, Novak Djokovic, should not be discounted, having won the most matches in total this season.
One thing is for certain; injuries and withdrawals notwithstanding, the ATP’s London masterpiece should certainly live up to its hype of being ‘The Decider’.
(Published on Bleacher Report; December 14th 2009)