Another ATP season comes to an end under the dome of the O2 arena in London as the world’s best gather to fight for one last title. Like the WTA Finals, held last month in Singapore, the World Tour Finals are played in a round robin format. The eight man field is split between two groups named after a former world #1, this year Boris Becker and Pete Sampras. Defending champion Andy Murray and five-time former winner Novak Djokovic are out injured, as is Stan Wawrinka. But there is still no shortage of star power in London. But who will come out on top?
Pete Sampras Group
World #1 Rafael Nadal leads the Pete Sampras Group. The Spaniard has had a superb season, securing the year-end #1 ranking at the Paris Masters. He has earned the title, having won the French Open and the US Open, as well as the Masters in Monte Carlo and Madrid and ATP 500’s in Barcelona and Beijing. That being said, he was forced to withdraw from Bercy ahead of his quarterfinal with eventual finalist Krajinovic due to a knee problem. His fans will be hoping he is back to full fitness as he looks to win his first season-ending championships, having twice been denied in the final previously.
He is joined by world #4 Dominic Thiem who is making his second appearance at the season’s finale. Thiem, who is at a career high ranking, last year failed to make it out of his group, winning just one match. But after a good season of progress that included a title in Rio de Janeiro, a run to the final in Madrid and a second semifinal at Roland Garros he will be hoping to do better. But he has struggled for form since the end of the clay court season and will need to turn that around quickly to be in contention.
Debutant Grigor Dimitrov will be desperate to stop him. The Bulgarian’s season began excellently with two titles and a run to the last four in Melbourne. He also won his first Masters 1000 in Cincinnati, but results have been a little patchy. None the less, he does have the game to trouble anyone on his day. David Goffin completes Pete Sampras Group. The Belgian played at the O2 last year as an alternate replacing Gael Monfils ahead of his final match with Djokovic. The Belgian was crushed in that match but this year will have a chance to have a real run at the World Tour Finals.
Boris Becker Group
Switzerland’s world #2 Roger Federer has had his fair share of success at the World Tour Finals. He is a six-time champion at the season-ending championships and has re-established himself as a force in the tennis world this year. He picked up the title in Melbourne and then won a historic eighth Wimbledon. He also added three Masters 1000s in Indian Wells, Miami and Shanghai. Five of his six season-ending wins were in Shanghai, he has only one title (2010) at the O2 having been denied in his last three finals in London. But with his conqueror Djokovic absent, he will surely be confident of adding title number seven to his impressive list.
World #3 Alexander Zverev is being touted by many as the successor to the big four. He has never before appeared at the World Tour Finals but comes into London having won his first two Masters 1000s in Rome and Montreal. He defeated Federer in that final and may be hopeful of doing the same again this week. Marin Cilic joins them in Boris Becker Group. The Croatian has arguably had a disappointing season by his lofty standards, though he did make it to the Wimbledon final. But he has qualified into London for the third time, and will be looking to make it to at least the semis for the first time.
Completing the line up is something of a surprise in Jack Sock. He didn’t look in contention to reach the World Tour Finals, but a magical run in Bercy last week took him to the final. There he defeated Filip Krajinovic to secure his spot at the O2, the first American to do so since Fish in 2011. He may not have the star power of some of his rivals, but will likely be flushed with confidence after picking up the biggest title of his career so recently.
Early matches to watch
The clash between Dimitrov and Thiem looks an interesting one. The Austrian is the higher ranked man but has not played well on hard courts often so far in his career. Dimitrov’s attacking game, however, is well suited to the fast indoor conditions at the O2. It should prove to be an exciting clash of styles with the baseliner Thiem trying to hit his way past the all-court game of Dimitrov. It will also be a pleasure to watch for the one-handed backhand fans in the sport.
Federer’s first match against Jack Sock could also be interesting. Sock is well known for his aggressive style of play, particularly off his powerful forehand which he hits with as much spin as the great Rafael Nadal. Once that would have left Federer fans fearing for their man, but the Swiss’ change to a larger racquet face has strengthened his old weakness on the backhand side immeasurably. None the less, Sock has the power to trouble anyone, and Federer will have to be sharp in his first match to avoid defeat.
Federer is the obvious pick to be the man lifting the trophy at the end of the week and for good reason. He is the most accomplished indoor player in the field by some margin and should be able to get through his group fairly comfortably. Indeed, without Djokovic, the only man consistently able to best Federer indoors, it is hard to see who can beat Federer to the title. Look to Dimitrov and Zverev to acquit themselves well, but it will be yet more glory for Federer to finish his great year.
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