The ATP World Tour Finals kick off this Sunday in London. Old faces are joined by newbies as they compete to win the season-ending tournament.
Djokovic’s year didn’t get off to the best start as he failed to defend his Australian Open title, losing to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka. He recovered by winning back-to-back Masters titles in Indian Wells and Miami. The Serb reached his 2nd French Open final in June where he met Rafael Nadal again. Unfortunately, Djokovic couldn’t complete his career Grand Slam as he lost in 4 sets. The following month, he ended his 17-month Grand Slam drought by defeating Roger Federer in an exciting final. It was his 2nd Wimbledon title and his 7th Grand Slam overall. The win propelled him back to No.1 in the rankings. Djokovic was unusually rusty during the summer, only reaching the 3rd round of the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati Masters, and was beaten by Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals of the US Open. In the last few weeks, he has picked up the China Open and Paris Masters titles, and looks back to his best. Djokovic is the defending Tour Finals champion and this will be his 8th appearance at the event.
This will be Wawrinka’s 2nd appearance, having made his debut last year, where he reached the semi-finals. The World No.4 had his best-ever start to a season – winning the Chennai Open before going on to win his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. After helping Switzerland reach the Davis Cup semi-finals in April, he won his first Masters title in Monte Carlo, beating Roger Federer in 3 sets. The summer saw Wawrinka suffered a dip in form – one that has dominated the second half of his season. He lost in the 1st round of French Open before going on to have his best grass season, reaching the semi-finals of Queens and his first Wimbledon quarter-final. He followed this up with a quarter-final appearance at the US Open. Last month saw Stan lose in the early rounds of 3 consecutive tournaments, including the Swiss Indoors. Due to this run of form and his tough draw, he is not really expect to do much in London.
Berdych qualified for his 5th straight Tour Finals after reaching the Paris Masters semi-finals last week. His season got off to a good start as he reached his first Australian Open semi-final, before losing to eventual champion, Stan Wawrinka. Berdych became one of a handful of active players to reach the semi-finals of every Grand Slam. He won two titles – Rotterdam Open and Stockholm Open – to take his career tally to 10. After early exits in the summer tournaments, Berdych reached the quarter-finals of the US Open for second time, losing to eventual champion Marin Cilic. The World No.7 has a 5-8 record in the Tour Finals – including a run to the semi-finals in 2011. Berdych has a 26-51 win-loss record against the others in his group. He plays Wawrinka in the group opener on Monday afternoon.
After serving a drug suspension last year, people were unsure how Marin Cilic would be on his return. Winning the US Open title was probably the last thing on their minds! The Croat came through a tough draw at Flushing to win his maiden Grand Slam title and propel himself to a career high ranking of No.8. It has been a great year for Cilic. He has won 4 titles including his 4th Zagreb Indoors title. The addition of Goran Ivanisevic to his coaching team has been a masterstroke. Improvements have been made to his serve and forehand in particular. Ivanisevic has the experience of being a Major champion, but also of being the ‘nearly man’ – experience that he has no doubt passed onto his protege. This is Marin’s debut at the Tour Finals – ending what has been a fantastic year. Unfortunately, Cilic has losing records against the other players in his group. Maybe this is the time he starts to turn those records in his favour.
Roger Federer qualified for the tournament for a record 13th consecutive year in August. After a barren 2013, this year has seen some of the best of Federer. He reached 10 finals, winning 5 of them, including a record 6th Cincinnati Masters title. He also helped Switzerland reach their first Davis Cup final since 1992. Federer reached his 25th Grand Slam final at Wimbledon, where he was beaten by Djokovic in a 5-set epic. This marked his first Major final appearance in two years. At the US Open, he reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Marin Cilic – the Croat’s 1st win over the Swiss. Last month, Federer won his first Shanghai Masters title, defeating surprise finalist Gilles Simon in straight sets. He then won his 5th title of the year at the Swiss Indoors in Basel. Federer is a 6-time champion at the Tour Finals.
Andy Murray made his return to the tour at the Qatar Open, having undergone back surgery in September 2013. Like Wawrinka, he has had an inconsistent year, littered with good wins and bad losses. He reached the French Open semi-finals for the second time – becoming the 10th man to reach multiple Major semi-finals at every Slam. Unfortunately, Murray was unable to successfully defend his Wimbledon title, losing to Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals. This ended his 17 match winning streak at SW19 and saw him drop to No.10 in the rankings – his lowest since 2008. However, the past few tournaments has seen a big improvement in Murray. He won his first title of the year in Shenzhen and made the semi-finals in Beijing. The Scot followed this up with wins in Vienna and Valencia. His win over Dimitrov in Paris booked his place in the Finals for the 6th time.
History will be made Sunday afternoon as Kei Nishikori becomes the first Asian player to compete in the World Tour Finals. 2014 has been the break-out year for the 24 year-old. US Open runner-up, 4 titles and career high ranking of No.5. If it wasn’t for an injury at the Mutua Madrid Open, he might have picked up his first Masters title. Nishikori beat 3 top 10 players – Raonic, Wawrinka and Djokovic – on his way to the US Open final this September. His 4th round match against Milos Raonic lasted until 2.30am – a record finish at Flushing. The final was disappointing for him as he fell quickly in straight sets to Cilic. Kei has amassed a 52-11 record this year. Like Berdych, he cemented his place at the tournament with a semi-final appearance in Paris. Kei will kick off his Finals debut against Andy Murray.
Milos Raonic becomes the first player born in the 1990s to qualify for the World Tour Finals. Like Nishikori, he has had a career best season, reaching 13 tour quarter-finals or better. At the French Open, he reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final, losing to Novak Djokovic. The Canadian went one better at Wimbledon, where he made the semis. He became the first Canadian male player to make the semi-finals at a Grand Slam since Robert Powell in 1908. He was part of more tennis history at the Citi Open in Washington as he contested the first all-Canadian ATP final with Vasek Pospisil. For the second year, Raonic smashed more than 1,000 aces. He has losing records against the other players in his group, except Murray. Milos makes his debut against Roger Federer on Sunday evening.
Rafael Nadal had qualified for the tournament but pulled out, stating that he will undergo appendix surgery. The surgery took place on Monday, with Nadal said that, “everything went well. It was simple, ordinary surgery.” It will be a blow to the organisers and Nadal himself, who has yet to win this event.
In an unusual situation, Grigor Dimitrov, Ernest Gulbis and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have refused to be an alternate in case another player withdraws. Feliciano Lopez has stepped up and joins David Ferrer in London as the alternates.
In Tsonga’s case, it’s understandable as France have a Davis Cup final to prepare for. Dimitrov told L’Equipe that,
“If I go, it is because I deserved to be there, not hope someone gets hurt so I get to play.”
The ATP World Tour Finals will be broadcast on BBC from 2pm on Sunday.
Eilís Brennan, Pundit Arena.