The Barclays ATP World Tour finals 2014-Preview of the season ending tournament for the men’s singles format.
After a nerve wrecking and a full action packed season, the season closes out with a big bang at the ATP World Tour Finals, London. Eight men, as always, have qualified for this prestigious season ending tournament. The qualified men are- Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych, Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic with Raonic, Nishikori and Cilic being the debutants.
This is the first time in 14 years when a either a Spaniard or Argentine is not contesting the finals. Rafael Nadal had qualified, but an Appendicitis surgery and recovery from the same forced the two time finalist to pull out of the tournament. It has been 2ndtime in 3 years that the 9 time French Open winner has pulled out after qualifying (2012 and 2014).Another Spaniard David Ferrer sits 10th on the position for qualifying and it’s the first time since 2010 that he hasn’t qualified. His best result here had come as a finalist in 2007 (l. to Federer).
The 2009 finalist, Juan Martin Del Potro could have been a probable qualifier but since the beginning of the season, the Argentine had to deal with injury and its recovery and the 2009 finalist had almost skipped the whole season leading to massive downfall in his rankings.
It is the time to give out the best and the most what the 8 qualified men have in them. They will all be as precise and confident as ever and will battle it out in the zest of the indoors courts at the O2 Arena to put their hands on elusive trophy by looking on to decimate their opponents.
The Eight men have been split up into the groups of two where each player will play Round Robin matches i.e. a match against every player in his respective group and the top two men from both the groups will move further on to the semifinals and the winner of the semis will feature in the last match of the 2014 season of the ATP World Tour.
GROUP A: Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic.
Novak Djokovic is definitely the man to beat as the Serbian superstar is on a roll as he is on a 27 match winning streak Indoors and is chasing a third successive crown in London. He recently won the Paris Masters and almost certainly punched in his name for the year ending no.1 ranking by extending his lead on Federer as they share more than a 1000 points difference between them, which was a 490 point difference just before the beginning of the Paris Masters. Djokovic, by winning it extended his lead over Federer and also showed how motivated he was after the birth of his first child Stefan. Novak is a 3 time winner at the season ending championships with his victory over Nadal, Federer and Davydenko in the year 2013, 2012 and 2008 respectively. For Djokovic the things were groggy in the beginning of the season but as time rolled on, he resumed his game and won titles at Indian Wells, Miami, Rome, Wimbledon, Beijing and Paris-Bercy. He has stacked up a 57-8 win loss record till now this year.
The second man in the group is the reigning Australian Open, Stan Wawrinka who enjoyed 2014 as his career best season by winning a Grand slam and Masters Series 1000 for the very first time. However the 2013 semifinalist has been struggling with his form lately but he has certainly proved how to perform fantastically on big stages where it matters the most. He is the only player to have beaten the trio of Federer-Nadal-Djokovic this year. Wawrinka will be desperate to regain the fire he has lost and show the world his amazing displays of tennis in London. Wawrinka this year has won three titles- Chennai Open, Australian Open and Monte Carlo. However Stan hasn’t reached beyond Quarterfinals of any tournament he played since Wimbledon, but the STANimal can never be counted out of contention when big things are in talks. The Swiss No.2 has piled up 36 victories to 15 losses this as yet this year.
Third man in the group is Tomas Berdych. Berdych is a 4 time qualifier at the season ending championships and the only time he went beyond the Round Robin was in 2011. Berdych has enjoyed great form throughout the season, and the Czech will be eager to try and win most possible matches in his group in order to go deeper in the tournament. He can never be counted out of contention as he is one of the few gifted players who can impose his game on his opponent once he finds his rhythm. He has won two titles (Rotterdam, Stockholm) this year and has won 54 matches on tour and lost 20 this year.
Last but not the least in the Group A is the surprise US Open winner and debutant Marin Cilic. Cilic has had the best time of his tennis career this year as he won his first ever Grand Slam (beating Federer en route in the Semis) which helped him automatically qualify for the first time. Cilic seems to have summoned all his strength to reach the very top of his game and hence the result of having a berth at the World Tour Finals. The Croat teamed up with former professional Goran Ivanisevic and the continued efforts from both these men have produced effective results which are known to all. He has won 4 titles this year and will be yet again eyeing a scintillating performance and will try his best to capture the trophy on debut. Cilic has captured 4 trophies this year at Zagreb Open, Delray Beach Open, US Open and Moscow Open with a win loss record of 54-18.
GROUP B – Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic.
Swiss legend and World No.2 Roger Federer has qualified for a straight 13th year for the Finals. After having a relatively poor year last year, Federer has bounced back and has become one of the favorites to win this trophy for a record breaking 7th time (He himself holds the record of most with 6). Federer has already won 5 titles this year, winning at Dubai, Halle, Cincinnati Open, Shanghai Open and Basel Open, thanks to his coach Stefan Edberg and a new racquet with Federer’s hard work and childlike passion for the sport in the success equation. Last year, Federer was struggling for a place in the finals until the last week of the season, but exactly 12 months later he is ready to deliver excellence in the O2 Arena. Federer has enjoyed a wonderful season – however he missed a chance to win a Grand Slam after coming extremely close in the Wimbledon final. He has been playing consistently well and will look to fend off the challenges by his opponents in the group. Federer has won this event 6 times (2003 ’04 ’06 ’07 ’10 ’11), has been a finalist twice (2005 ’12), lost in semis thrice (2002 ’09 ’13) and has lost only once at the round robin stage in 2008. He currently leads the ATP Tour with most number of victories this year as he has won 68 matches this year and has lost 11. Federer will look to achieve a perfect winning record here in London has he begins his quest for the trophy he has won more than any man on earth.
The 2nd player in the group B is the Japanese Kei Nishikori. This is Kei’s debut at the season ending finale. He has definitely had the best year of his career as he reached his first Masters 1000 final in Madrid and was a set and a break up against Rafael Nadal, but ended up conceding that lead and had to withdraw mid-match due to a nagging injury. Nishikori kept improving his performance steadily since then. As a result Nishikori reached his first Grand Slam final by beating Raonic, Wawrinka and Djokovic in Round 4, QF and SF respectively. But he lost to an inspired Cilic who himself was on the high of reaching his first Major final. After US Open Nishikori found himself on the 7th spot in the rankings which is his highest till date. The recent success that he has had will definitely motivate him and he will try to showcase his best against the top players in the world. He has won a total of 4 titles this year, at the Memphis Open, Barcelona Open, Kuala Lumpur Open and Tokyo open. His win loss record is 52-12 this year.
Third man in group B is the local favorite, Andy Murray. Murray had a poor start to the season as he fell in QFs of Australian Open, and lost early at Indian Wells and Miami and also split ways with Ivan Lendl who helped him capture his maiden Grand slam, Olympic Gold and Wimbledon. Murray almost beat Nadal at the QFs of Rome open (played on clay) but blew his lead in the decider. He then found some rhythm and reached the Semis at the French open. After starting to work with former WTA player, Amelie Mauresmo, he lost in QFs of Wimbledon and US Open. But Murray found back his lost form and finally won a title since his famous Wimbledon victory. He won at Shenzhen, Vienna and Valencia and a victory at these three tournaments helped Murray a great deal in qualify for the season ending finals and bring him back to top 10. At Paris Bercy he lost to Novak (his 12 match winning streak ended), the same man who beat him in Beijing Semis as well. The three time semifinalist will be hoping to win this title in his own backyard as he has the advantage of local crowd’s support and he is currently enjoying a good run. He has won 58 matches this year and lost 18.
The last man in the group B is the Canadian Milos Raonic. This is Raonic’s debut as well. He would not have qualified if Nadal hadn’t withdrawn. Raonic has had a great season thus far. He is ranked no. 8 currently and has played wonderful tennis in extreme conditions. As this year is his debut year at the finals, Raonic will be trying to make the most out of it as long as it lasts. The giant server has played some extremely good tennis this year as he recently reached his 2nd Masters 1000 final of his career in Paris-Bercy. He finished as a quarterfinalist and semifinalist at the French Open and Wimbledon respectively. He has reached QFs and has gone beyond in almost every tournament he played. He recently beat Federer in straight sets at Paris-Bercy which will probably give him a mental boost to play some good tennis the O2 arena. Raonic has won a single title in Washington this year and has a win-loss record of 49-18.
As this tournament features the year’s best tennis players, it isn’t certainly easy to predict the winner in any of the match ups. My predictions for each match’s winners are:
- Djokovic vs. Wawrinka- Djokovic in 2 tight sets. Wawrinka had won their last meeting at the Australian Open but here Djokovic will have an opportunity to avenge that.
- Berdych vs. Djokovic- Djokovic in straight sets. A loss for him seems unlikely in the form he is – as he is playing consistently well and will improve his record against Berdych.
- Cilic vs. Djokovic- This one will be the real test for Djokovic because Cilic is stronger than ever and Djokovic will have to withstand his bombing serves and aggressive playing style. This match seems like it should definitely go to three sets and there Djokovic might just edge Cilic out. And if Djokovic is to lose any match in the Round robin, it might be this one against Cilic.
- Wawrinka vs. Cilic- This has all the makings of a classic match. I would say it’s going to be a close call and say Wawrinka will win this contest between the two.
- Wawrinka vs. Berdych- Wawrinka will claim a victory against the Czech.
- Berdych vs. Cilic- Berdych in 3 tough sets
- Federer vs. Raonic- Raonic claimed his first victory over Federer just 2 weeks ago, but Federer should win this match in straight sets between the two because of his experience at the O2 arena. Raonic being a debutant may be overwhelmed by the occasion, but one hopes his experience in Paris will help him handle this well.
- Nishikori vs. Federer- This match will go to 3 sets as both of them are enjoying great form. Nishikori has won the pair’s last meeting on hard court but Federer has won their previous encounter and also their only previous Indoors match. Both of them will display great skills but Federer will win this battle of the two.
- Murray vs. Federer- This will be another interesting matchup because more or less both of them are playing good tennis. I would say that Federer will beat Murray like he did in 2012. Federer also beat him at this year’s Australian open, which might just help him turn this match in his favor.
- Murray vs. Nishikori- Murray has beaten Nishikori every time that they have played, but it seems like this time Nishikori won’t let Murray win easily. He will put up a tough fight. It will be safe to say that Murray will win this clash in three tight sets with a possibility of either of three going to a tiebreak.
- Murray vs. Raonic: Murray will beat Raonic in straight sets. I am not putting Raonic out of contention but Murray might be just too strong for him at the crucial moments.
- Nishikori vs. Raonic: Nishikori has a good record against Raonic, but this time around it will not be as easy it might have been. Hope that both of them will play the sensational tennis they are capable of. Raonic in a close 3 setter.
Semifinals: Djokovic over Murray; Federer over Wawrinka
Finals: Djokovic to win his 3rd year ending championship.
So the tennis world and the players have their eyes firmly set on this tournament and no doubt it is one of the most exciting times in the entire season. A week of thrill and full throttle action awaits us as the top 8 players begin their quest for the ultimate prize in the beautiful city London.May the best man emerge out as the winner.
-Vishakha Khandelwal [Vishakha is a Tennis Analyst for Sportz Cosmos. You can reach her at the gmail id : sportzcosmos]