The ATP World Finals tour kicked off this week at the O2 in London with the highest seeded (and available) players taking the spotlight for the end of year showcase. The tournament boasts the usual top names including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer with the exception of our home interest and Wimbledon champion (that felt good) Andy Murray, missing the tournament following back surgery. The tournament also sees a debut for Swiss number two Stanislas Wawrinka after an impressive year was capped off by reaching the US Open semi-finals.
Nadal and Djokovic entered the competition as the two outstanding favourites and both opened their campaigns with victories. Nadal was surprisingly convincing on what is far from being his strongest surface beating David Ferrer easily 6-3 6-2. This was even more surprising considering Ferrer walked over Nadal three days previous in the semi-finals of the Paris Masters. Nadal had an outstanding record against Ferrer before Saturday winning the seven previous meetings all on the clay court. Nadal will be content with his impressive victory however considering he failed to beat his fellow Spaniard on a hard court on the last three attempts.
Given the surface you would have to give Novak Djokovic the slight edge in this tournament but he made a far from convincing start against what is a declining Roger Federer. You can’t deny that the Swiss number one is still a dangerous entity but at the same time he isn’t what he once was. The head to heads between these two are usually cracking affairs and although there were glimpses, the game was littered with unforced errors, and both will have to improve to stand a chance against the new world number one. Djokovic came out the winner in a third set he dominated after Federer had scraped the second.
Elsewhere Wawrinka made a strong start to his tournament debut coming through three sets to beat Tomas Berdych 6-3 6-7 6-3. The Czech, Berdych, making his fourth successive appearance at the event was simply unable to contain the superb form of Wawrinka that saw him coast past Andy Murray in the US Open Quarter Finals. The display was highlighted by some world-class serving and then the composure to recover after losing a second set tie-break.
The man to watch this year though certainly seems to be Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro. Having won an impressive 15 games from 17 since the US Open, he extended this further, beating Richard Gasquet 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 7-5 in a packed arena. Gasquet however considered the underdog for the tournament attempted to show that he wasn’t just there to make up the numbers playing some excellent tennis on his way to clinching the first set. Of course he is just there to make up the numbers having won just 3 out of 36 meetings with the ‘big three’.
The second group of games saw some intriguing ties none more so than the newly crowned number one against Wawrinka happy to take on the world. To be fair to Wawrinka he came out and hit Nadal with an expert display of serving that saw him take both sets to tie breaks, unfortunately he didn’t have the grit required to come through either of them and what could have been a classic encounter fizzled out a bit 7-6 7-6. Still, he will fancy his chances against Ferrer who has now played 83 games this year, more than anyone else on the tour. This could be the root cause of his second loss of the competition, this time 4-6 4-6 to Berdych, or possibly Ferrer just isn’t consistant enough to be a top guy (potentially third in the world).
The second round robin games from Group B started with Federer giving himself a chance of qualifying, winning 6-4 6-3. Though the result looks comfortable for Federer this was more to do with the inconsistency shown on court from his opponent Richard Gasquet. The Frenchman played some world class shots but they were few and far between. Federer won with ease but don’t be fooled into thinking the ‘Old Federer’ is back, it will take more, much more for me to be convinced of that.
In the other game in Group B, Del Potro would look to prove his metal and win yet another game on his incredible run against the ever imposing Serb, Novak Djokovic. You could see from the outset this would be a tough test for the Argentine as Djokovic immediately put pressure on his serve and broke midway through the first set. Maintaining this high energy, Djokovic went on to win the set, hitting an impressive ace off his second serve. JMDP roared back in set two capitalising on a slice (a very generous slice) of luck to break by showing great resiliency to hold his own serve and take it to a decider. As it so often does the luck changed and Djokovic was gifted a break and seized upon it seeing out the game 6-3 3-6 6-3.
There have been some good but not great matches so far which is rather disappointing given this is the best Tennis has to offer. Hopefully there will be much improvement as the players strive to end the season on a high. At this early stage it’s hard to see anyone beating Novak on this surface and stopping his incredibly run of wins now stretching to 19.