Saturday, 19 November 2011
ATP World Tour Finals 2011 Preview
The clash between the top 8 players in the world commences this Sunday in what must be one of the most anticipated year end championships in a long while. What has been dubbed the 5th Grand Slam promises some scintillating clashes and the emerging consensus among tennis commentators is that although the big 4 are the obvious front runners, there is a good potential for some high profile upsets. Most prominently, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have been drawn in the same group and will be playing the most anticipated group match in the World Tour Finals this year, while world no.1 Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray will face off in the other group.
The front runner is surely Federer, on a hot streak with two straight titles in Basel and at the Paris Masters - one of the few Masters tournaments to evade the maestro - and playing commanding attacking tennis. It would be a huge shock to see Federer bow out before the semi finals, who seems to thrive during the indoor season, and there will be no obstacle of surface transition as there could be for Rafael Nadal. The 02 is a court that plays very similar to the Paris Masters (slow, low bounce) and that only helps Federer's cause for making an historic win of 6 year end championships, and putting the fear of his name back into the cohorts who have outdone him this year.
Nadal on the other hand is an unknown quantity; he lost early in Shanghai, skipped Paris and as traditionally regarded is thought to be on his weakest surface, and at his weakest time of the year. But Nadal is smart, and the decision to skip Paris was predicated on the upcoming Davis Cup final with Argentina not long after the World Tour Finals. One gets the sense that out of the World Tour Finals and the Davis Cup, Nadal would rather sacrifice a win at the 02 for Davis Cup glory, and that he will be trying to conserve himself for a potentially arduous battle against the Argentinians, who are no slouch when it comes to clay, and are packing the heat of Juan Martin Del Potro and David Nalbandian. If that is the case we might see a looser Nadal than usual who is willing to flatten his shots out and kill matches earlier, and he may be even more dangerous than he usually is in that sense. Lest we forget, he made it to the final last year and played Federer pretty close, and despite the objectors Rafa has shown he has the ability and sheer determination to fight on surfaces that are not quite so propitious to his topspin founded game.
Djokovic, similar to Nadal, is erring on the side of fragility at the moment, and the big question still hanging in the air is over the severity of his shoulder injury which has forced him to retire on several occasions in the past few months (including a premature withdrawal against Jo Wilfried Tsonga in Paris earlier this month). He has however said that the shoulder was at 100% during serve practice, so we'll have to take his word for it, whether he appears to be downplaying it or not.With Novak's year, we can never count him out.
Murray is on a hot streak despite losing to Berdych in Paris last week, and has only lost one matche since bowing out of the US Open to Rafael Nadal, whom he defeated to take the Tokyo title, including a 6-0 final set in which he played superb attacking tennis. Murray seems to thrive in the pressure of playing in front of his home crowd, and will be energised somewhat by his new no.3 ranking accrued during the Asian hardcourt swing. It could well be his his first WTF final, following which the British media will go into its usual hyperbolic frenzy.
Finally, the competition cannot be underestimated and should not be considered as 'the rest'. David Ferrer is a nightmare to play against on his best days and no one should be surprised if he takes some high ranking scalps. Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych are dangerous, powerful hitters who are particularly proficient on indoor hard court, Tsonga having made the final of Paris last week, and Berdych being the winner recently of Beijing. Perhaps the weak link is Mardy Fish, but again, he has a game conducive to hard courts with his big serve and willingness to rush the net.
This is a highly open draw in terms of competitiveness, and don't be surprised if we see more than one surprise semi-finalist. Every man feels he has a chance against the next, and that should provide for some brilliant tennis.