By Matthew Laird, Special to Tennis-X.com
Group A of the ATP World Tour Finals begin on Monday in London. The group includes former champion Novak Djokovic along with home favorite Andy Murray, former finalist David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych.
Finals Record: 8-7 in four appearances (2007-2010), best performance in 2008 when he won the title, beating Davydenko.
2011 Record: 69-4, ranked #1, winning 10 titles out of 11 finals.
There has already been a great deal written about Novak Djokovic’s season, which will probably be remembered as the best first eight months of a season that any player has ever had. But since the U.S. Open, Novak’s fortunes have trailed downward pretty sharply. I certainly can’t blame him. He played so much tennis to start the year, I think it would be shocking if he didn’t feel the effects. But his withdrawal from the Paris Masters and his retirement against Del Potro in the Davis Cup have to be troubling. There’s no doubt that if Novak can find the same form he displayed at the start of the year, he is more than capable of winning this tournament. But I’m not sure if his body or his mind are going to be up to the task at this point. Considering how much he’s already accomplished this year, there must be a part of him that’s anxious for the off-season. That said, he has a good record against the other players in his group. Not landing in the same section as Federer or Tsonga should help him. He’s a combined 19-9 against Murray, Ferrer, and Berdych, and he’s demonstrated that he can win this title, having done so in 2008. He’s actually the only player of the eight involved to have won it, other than Federer. Given his performance over the course of the year, it’s hard to bet against him. But looking more closely at his play over the past two months makes it a much closer call.
Finals Record: 7-4 in three appearances (2008-2010), best performance in 2008 and 2010, when he made the semifinals, losing to Davydenko and Nadal.
2011 Record: 56-12, ranked #3, winning 5 titles out of 6 finals.
Murray is another player who is finishing the year strong. After losing in the Australian Open final to start the year and going into a pretty brutal slump (which involved consecutive losses to players ranked outside the top 100) he ended the year with a 17-match winning streak that was just barely ended by Berdych in a tightly-contested three-hour match at the Paris Masters. That run included a win over Nadal in the Tokyo finals in which Murray absolutely rocked the Spaniard in the second two sets, winning 12 of 14 games. Murray also beat David Ferrer twice in that span, so he won’t be too disappointed to see him in the same round robin group. Surprisingly, Murray actually has a losing record against Tomas Berdych (1-3), so on the whole, he’s 10-12 against his group. That said, he’s my favorite to make the semifinals out of this group, considering his recent form. Murray is the hometown hero, keep in mind, and he’s also never lost more than one match in round robin play during any of his three appearances in the end-of-year championships. He failed to make the semis in 2009 by a matter of games, you may recall. This year, he may be able to improve on his best showing.
Finals Record: 4-4 in two appearances (2007, 2010), best performance was making the final in 2007, where he lost to Federer.
2011 Record: 56-17, ranked #5, winning 2 titles out of 6 finals.
I’m a bit surprised, honestly, that Ferrer is only playing in his third world tour finals. He was so good in 2007, where he went 3-0 in round robin play and then lost to Federer in the final, that it’s odd to think that he dropped down to around number 15 for the next two years, and then went winless when he made it back to the finals last year. He’s had a very strong year, there’s no question about that, but it hasn’t been spectacular for a player who could potentially end the year as the number five player in the world. He won two titles early in the year and made the semifinals at the Australian Open, but since then he’s mostly just been very steady. Since he made back-to-back finals in Barcelona and Monte Carlo in April, it’s tough for me to see any particularly noteworthy results. Except, of course, for his three wins in Davis Cup, including two over the United States in Texas. And like Nadal, he’s probably looking towards the upcoming final against Argentina in a few weeks. Of course, he certainly can do it, but Ferrer hasn’t had many big wins over top-tier opponents lately, and I don’t really see him coming through to the semis, despite his strong 12-13 record against his three opponents.
Finals Record: 1-2 in one appearance (2010), lost in the round robin stage.
2011 Record: 51-21, ranked #7, winning 1 title out of his only final.
Berdych very nearly accomplished a stunning feat, which would have been to make the elite eight in back-to-back years without winning a title. It would have been even more amazing if he had done it this year, because last year he made the Wimbledon final and the semis at Roland Garros, as well as a final at the Miami Masters. But this year, he very nearly made it to the World Tour Finals simply by making it consistently to the quarters or semis of almost every tournament he played in. He played all nine Masters Series events, and he made the quarters in six of them, as well as the semis twice. He did finally manage to win a title in Beijing, beating Tsonga in the semis and Cilic in the final. Amazingly, that was Berdych’s first title since May of 2009! Despite the fact that Berdych is 6-12 against his group, I actually think he has a pretty good shot of making it through to the semis, just based on his form at the end of the year, coupled with the fact that Ferrer and Djokovic may not be playing their best. On a good day, he can hit through anybody, as demonstrated by his recent win over Murray, ending the Scot’s stunning winning streak at the Paris Masters.
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