Sunday, 18 November 2012

ATP World Tour Finals Reaction - Mr Invincible Triumphs Again

Year end no.1 two years in a row, Novak Djokovic won his second Year End Championships with victory over Roger Federer in a breathtaking duel. It was at times unbalanced with momentum switching dramatically at the beginning and end of both sets, but the quality at times was staggering and the shotmaking simply ridiculous. Federer was fast out of the blocks in the first set, pulling away to a 3-0 lead, but Djokovic didn't waver and dug in his heels to eventually break back, finding his defensive game and deflecting back all Federer could throw at him. The tiebreaker was a turning point, featuring an incredible point Federer won in which he hit a crosscourt forehand winner that was almost behind him, to save the first set point, but Djokovic eventually took it on his next opportunity. The momentum firmly behind him, Djokovic broke Federer straight away and was leading 40-0 on his own serve to consolidate the break, but made a succession of weak unforced errors that handed the break right back and re-energised Federer, who started to reproduce the tennis he was playing for much of the first set. He broke Djokovic not long after and was holding serve comfortably until he came to serve for the set leading 5-4 - at which point Djokovic made his signature surge to break with some incredible clutch play. Minutes later he was 6-5 up with a match point on Federer's serve. The way he clinched the title was magnificent - stretched wide on to his backhand side by a net rushing Federer he stayed low and ripped a searing backhand down the line, and his roar was just as exciting. It was an extraordinary and apposite end to a year which has seen an obscene level of quality, - there can be no doubt that the is the golden era - and by the time the Australian Open comes around the expectation will be just as high.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

ATP World Tour Finals Semi Finals Preview

The semi finals of the year ending championships are set, and they're two clashes of potentially epic magnitude: Djokovic vs Del Potro and Federer vs Murray. For me there are no clear predictions - each has the ability to defeat the other - but here's a summary of what to expect.

Djokovic vs del Potro

Juan Martin del Potro played brilliantly to beat Federer yesterday, serving powerfully and precisely, and consistently putting Federer under duress with his crushing forehand. If he can replicate this form against Djokovic, he'll give himself a chance to break through the world no.1's diamond strength defence and dictate from the baseline. As ever, against the best returner in the game he'll need to serve with high percentages similar to those he produced against Federer in the final set of that match, as well as follow strong serves up with some first strike, pressing play. Their last encounter on a hard court at the US Open demonstrated just how hard Djokovic is to break down at the back of the court in long rallies, and del Potro has to force the play early on to avoid repeating the loss in which he fought valiantly but was still downed in straights. So in short, Djokovic is still the favourite, but del Potro possesses the ability and firepower to repeat his performance in the 2009 World Tour Finals. Additionally, there has been evidence to suggest there is an element of jadedness in Djokovic, who has started a couple of his matches quite slowly, especially in his 3 set win against Murray. If he starts slow del Potro has to take advantage and put the Serb on the back foot. But as we've seen for two years now, Djokovic's ability to fight back from the semblance of a defeat is so good it's unnatural. And that's likely how the match will play out - del Potro to start strong, Djokovic to come roaring back, but shoot me down for being a contrarian, this time I think the Tower will win in 3 bruising sets.

Federer vs Murray

After beating Federer at the Olympics and following it with his first Grand Slam, Murray has shed the element of doubt that he can beat his contemporaries on the biggest occasions. Despite losing the Wimbledon final to Federer he has now won 5 straight sets against him, utilising his unique game which Federer has recently struggled to deal with. Aside from a poor start against Berdych and lapses in concentration against Djokovic, Murray has looked good this week, serving strongly and displaying a positive intent to be aggressive. Federer's form has been solid, but he has at times looked fragile; the first set against David Ferrer he was fortunate not to have lost, serving at a very low first serve percentage and spared by Ferrer missing multiple break points, and against del Potro he played an atrocious tiebreaker, missing several backhands. He can't afford to be slack on the big points against Murray, who will be galvanised by his home crowd and unlike Ferrer will be all over Federer's second serve if he fails to make a sizeable number of first serves. I expect Murray to extend his winning streak over Federer in 3 sets. 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

ATP World Tour Finals 2012 Preview

The groups have been set for another electrifying clash between the top 8 players in the world. Rafael Nadal's absence is still conspicuous, but regardless, this is going to be a huge face off for the current top 3 which will set the tone for the first Grand Slam of 2013. Novak Djokovic has secured the year end no.1 ranking for the second year in succession; Federer is defending the title he has now won twice in succession, and Murray is looking to end his career year with a flourish. They are certainly the front runners - but at this time of year, don't be surprised if neither man wins the tournament. Ferrer, Tsonga, Del Potro and Berdych are all players with the ability to take down the big 3, and if they hit top form expect some fierce battles from the group stage to the final.

Group breakdown:

Group A: Djokovic, Murray, Berdych, Tsonga

If there's a group of death, this has to be it. Djokovic and Murray are the obvious choices to make the semi finals, but Berdych and Tsonga are perhaps the two players you don't want to have to play back to back in the group stage. Both possess heavy artillery off the ground, huge serves and are excellent on indoor hardcourt. If Tsonga in particular turns up to London in good form, he loves playing on grand stages and could knock off one of the favourites. Berdych has been excellent form in this half of the year and is more than capable of causing an upset too, if his power play style is clicking. Combine that with the unexpected exits of Murray and Djokovic from the Paris Masters last week, it suggests either one may be feeling the fatigue of a long season in which they have battled many times. Comparably however, both are in much better form than this time last year, and I'd still expect both to make the semi finals.

Group B: Federer, Ferrer, Del Potro, Tipsarevic

Federer shouldn't have much trouble making it to the final four with this competition, with only a potential loss coming against Del Potro, who defeated him in his hometown tournament of Basel two weeks ago. More interesting is the fight for the final spot in the semi finals - Del Potro is the favourite, but I'm not counting out Ferrer, who is coming off his first Masters title in Paris, and must be confident he can equal his performance last year. He holds a strong record over Del Potro and the ability to neutralise the giant Argentinian's power, and it could be an early pivotal group match in the round robin stage. Overall Del Potro's form this year has been impressive, and it would be great to see him challenging for the title again, as he did in his flagship year of 2009. Tipsarevic plays the role of spoiler, but I don't see him taking down Federer indoors, Del Potro, or Ferrer, with whom he shared an epic 5 set match at the US Open this year.

Semi-finalists: Djokovic, Murray, Federer, Del Potro