What a sensational season of tennis we have been treated to in 2013! We’ve seen Novak Djokovic win a record third consecutive Australian Open title; we’ve seen Rafael Nadal produce a staggering comeback from injury by winning a record eighth French Open title at Roland Garros and, perhaps more impressively, the US Open at Flushing Meadows. And, of course, sandwiched in between these slams, Andy Murray ended 76 years of British hurt at Wimbledon by winning the Men’s Singles Championship on the green grass of Centre Court.
And now we get to see these top players (well, not Murray; the Scot underwent back surgery earlier in September and has been ruled out through injury), plus the other six best players in the men’s game this year, battle it out against each other in the ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London.
Obviously, the man to beat is Rafael Nadal. The world number one, who took over from Novak Djokovic at the top last month, has been in scintillating form on hard courts this season, with his only defeats coming recently in Beijing (to Djokovic in three sets) and Shanghai (to Juan Martin Del Potro in straight sets). This is even more impressive given his long injury lay-off: since his shock second-round defeat to Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon in June 2012, he did not play until the Chile Open at the start of February to try and fully recover from a recurrent knee problem.
Since then, the Spaniard has reached the final in all but two tournaments he has entered this calendar year, with his surprise first-round defeat at Wimbledon to Steve Darcis and the aforementioned defeat to Del Potro in Shanghai the only blemishes in a sensational 2013. This, surprisingly though, is one title that Nadal has never won; 2010 was his only final appearance, where he lost to Roger Federer. But, given the form he is in and the year he has had, it seems likely that Nadal will be the favourite this time round.
One man who will undoubtedly have a big say is reigning champion Novak Djokovic. The Serbian world number two has also had a fantastic season. Winning a third consecutive Australian Open in January may be his only Slam success, but he reached the final at both Wimbledon and the US Open. He also ran Nadal very close at Roland Garros, with the Spaniard winning the final set 9-7 in a scintillating semi-final, possibly the closest Djokovic has come to beating Nadal on the clay in Paris. Despite suffering some potentially damaging final defeats, Djokovic has finished the season very strongly, beating Nadal in the final in Beijing, the day after Nadal reclaimed the #1 ranking, before beating Del Potro to win the Shanghai Masters a week later. Should Djokovic meet Nadal in the final, you sense that the recent win over Nadal in Beijing could be a huge psychological boost for the Serb.
Should Djokovic meet Nadal in the final, you sense that the recent win over Nadal in Beijing could be a huge psychological boost for the Serb.
One man who could break the likely Djokovic/Nadal final is Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro. The 2009 US Open champion has been blighted by injuries in recent years yet looks to be getting back to his best. His monumental effort in taking Djokovic to five sets in the Wimbledon semi-final illustrated that he is ready to compete at the business end of Grand Slams again. Despite a disappointing second-round exit at the US Open to Lleyton Hewitt, he has finished the season strongly, beating Nadal for the first time in four years in Shanghai before retaining his title in Basel, beating home favourite Roger Federer in the final. There is no doubt he is in great form and he knows how to beat Nadal on this surface. He is the biggest threat to the top two and on his day, he is almost unstoppable. DelPo may well make the final, as he did in 2009.
17-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, however, has had a very difficult season. It seems a long time ago that he went toe-to-toe with Andy Murray in the semi-final of the Australian Open in January, eventually losing in five sets. Since then, he has won just one title – in Halle back in June – and saw his remarkable run of 36 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final appearances end with a second-round defeat to Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon. Losing to Tommy Robredo in the fourth round of the US Open soon followed, completing a miserable year in the Slams for the Swiss.
Yet, he has since admirably battled to qualify for the end-of-year finals, including a final appearance in Basel a week ago. He also gained revenge for that Del Potro defeat, by beating the Argentine in the quarter-finals in Paris last week. Despite his indifferent form this season, he’s looked much better in the last few weeks and you would not want to be in a group with Federer. He always poses a threat, knows how to win here and will provide plenty of problems to his opponents.
World number three David Ferrer has crept up the world rankings this year after a series of consistent performances at the Grand Slams, reaching at least the last eight in every one this calendar year. He reached his first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros, but was comfortably beaten by fellow compatriot Nadal. It is widely regarded that Ferrer is the fittest player on tour; his dogged determination makes him extremely difficult to beat. But does he have the ability to trouble the likes of Djokovic and Nadal?
Czech world number six Tomas Berdych is one of the hardest-hitters on tour
Czech world number six Tomas Berdych is one of the hardest-hitters on tour and this helped him to two Grand Slam quarter-finals this season, in Australia and Wimbledon. He knows what it is like to be in a significant final: he beat both Federer and Djokovic en route to the Wimbledon final in 2010, eventually succumbing to Nadal. He certainly has the weapons, most notably the forehand, to trouble the very best, but does he have the consistency to replicate the run he put together three years ago?
2013 also saw a significant up-turn in form of Stanislas Wawrinka. The Swiss number two excelled at the US Open, comfortably beating both Berdych and reigning champion Murray en route to a first Grand Slam semi-final, against Djokovic. He took him all the way to five sets, before coming out on the losing side. That was for the second time in the season – he also went the distance against the Serb at the Australian Open in January, losing 12-10 in the final set in a match that lasted over five hours. John McEnroe says Wawrinka has the ‘best one-handed backhand in the game today’ and, based on his performances against his rivals in recent months, he could certainly cause major problems and a place in the semi-final and beyond is a genuine possibility.
John McEnroe says Wawrinka has the ‘best one-handed backhand in the game today’
Richard Gasquet occupies the final spot in London after another solid season on the ATP tour. The Frenchman, currently ranked world number nine, reached his second Grand Slam semi-final at the US Open, but lost to eventual champion Nadal in straight sets. The talented Frenchman is a Grand Slam champion (he won the Mixed Doubles title at the French Open in 2004 alongside partner Tatiana Golovin) and, despite never winning a Masters 1000 event, Gasquet possesses a lethal backhand which can cause serious problems to all his opponents.
So, there’s a rundown of the eight participants. The big question is though, who will finish the season with a flourish and be the player to beat going into 2014?