The ATP Tour Finals start on Sunday at London’s O2 Arena for what the eight competitors will be hoping turns out to be a grandstand finish to another gruelling season.
After an intriguing WTA equivalent in Singapore where Caroline Wozniacki upset the odds to win, her male counterparts will be hoping to produce just as much excitement and drama.
The 2017 event could prove a step into the unknown, with last year’s winner Andy Murray absent through injury while the man he beat, Novak Djokovic, is also missing.
It has been a magnificent year for the pair who proved the doubters wrong to share the four Grand Slams after taking the closing months of last season off.
Federer kicked it off by beating Nadal in the Australian Open final and went on to add an eighth Wimbledon title. The Swiss skipped the clay season, probably for good reason as his great rival claimed a 10th French Open crown before repeating the trick at Flushing Meadows.
Regardless of the result in London, Nadal will finish the season as world number one but there are doubts regarding his fitness and, if the pair meet, the Swiss will be confident after triumphing on all four occasions they have faced each other in 2017.
Federer has won this event six times but it is one of the few accolades to escape the Spaniard’s own bulging trophy cabinet. However, being in different sides of the draw means they will not meet until the semi-finals at the earliest, but few will be surprised if they are the last men standing.
The draw was made on Wednesday and it is Nadal who is in what looks to be the easier half. The Spaniard will face Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem and David Goffin in the Pete Sampras group. None of these players have previously won Grand Slams in their careers and have endured fairly up and down seasons.
Dimitrov, otherwise known as ‘Baby Fed’ due to the similarities of his game to Federer, has had somewhat of a coming of age year, winning his maiden Masters title in Cincinnati and is making his O2 debut.
The 11/1 26-year-old recently reached the final in Stockholm but fell in the last 16 last week in Paris. However, the Bulgarian has a history of suddenly finding his form and may well be inspired by his new surroundings.
David Goffin is also an interesting case after another solid year. The Belgian is 18/1 and boasts excellent form following his recent wins in Shenzhen and Tokyo although he has more than London to think about.
Goffin will also have one eye on the Davis Cup final and will be keen to continue his form at the O2 ahead of his country’s upcoming meeting with France.
Finally, Thiem appears to have dropped off the most in the last few months. February’s win in Rio De Janeiro set him up nicely but he has struggled since reaching the finals in Barcelona and Madrid in the spring. In fact, he has not made it past the last 16 of a tournament since August.
The Austrian seems at his happiest on clay and the fast indoor courts may not suit him, meaning 22/1 perhaps tells its own story.
Federer’s pool, the Pete Sampras Group, seems far more competitive, with his opponents set to offer both class and form. Marin Cilic, Alexander Zverev and Jack Sock all provide differing tests and although the Swiss will expect to finish first in the round-robin stage, it will be far from straightforward.
Experience-wise, the most prominent name has to be 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic. The Croatian’s season highlight was probably his run to the SW19 final, only for a blister to kill his hopes of beating Federer. The 29-year-old also won in Istanbul and reached the final at Queen’s Club.
He has been in exceedingly good form, reaching the quarters or better in his last four tournaments. Despite maybe not winning as often as he should, Cilic remains an extremely classy competitor and 11/1 seems an extremely generous price.
It could be argued that the form player coming into the event is Sock, a man who makes his Finals debut after winning last week’s Paris Masters. The 20/1 25-year-old qualified ninth but Stan Wawrinka’s absence through injury left a spare spot and he is now heading to London.
The American is an improved player this year and his inclusion means the eight competitors in the singles will all come from different nations.
Finally and Zverev, the up-and-coming German who has risen to third in the world this year after winning five titles along the way. His success has seen him anointed by Boris Becker as the man to lead the rebirth of his country’s tennis scene although his form since winning August’s Rogers Cup has been nothing to write home about.
Despite still being to truly challenge in the Grand Slams, the 20-year-old is a player who often saves his best for facing the big guns and winning in London at 8/1 would mark a breakthrough in his career.
Of course the Finals have thrown up the odd surprise winner, most recently Nikolay Davydenko in 2009. This is what will inspire the likes of Cilic, Dimitrov, Sock and especially Zverev.
However, despite Nadal’s injury worries, he says he expects to be fully fit for his first match on Monday against Goffin following a positive assessment from his medical team.
Although tennis is a sport with few guarantees, on this year’s form it would be a surprise if the class of the two old stagers does not see them meet for a 39th time in the showpiece.
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