The end of the 2013 season begins tomorrow with the ATP Finals in London. The tournament once again features the Top 8 players in the world (minus the injured Andy Murray) competing for 1,500 important ranking points and a purse of close to $2 million dollars. Does that have your attention? It should because it certainly has the players’.
Leading the way are the big three – Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer – plus Juan Martin Del Potro, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Richard Gasquet and newbie Stan Wawrinka.
The Great Eight were divided into two groups which turned out far from fair and balanced. In Group A it’s Rafa, Ferrer, Berdych and Stan while Group B is loaded with Novak, Delpo and Roger.
With all the events this time of year, one has to consider motivation and fatigue with evaluating players. Nadal, who’s played a lot of tennis this season, might be wearing out as he often does this time of year. Del Potro’s also played a lot.
At stake for Novak isn’t just defending his 2012 title, but also the No. 1 ranking. It’s a longshot but he’ll have to win the title and hope Rafa doesn’t win two matches. So how will all of this unfold? Here’s my breakdown of the tournament:
GROUP A: Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, Stanislas Wawrinka
Rafael Nadal: He’s the obvious pick in this group but let’s remember: Rafa’s never won this title, never done well this time in the season and since the US Open didn’t win any of the three events he entered. But he’s Rafa so we’ll get the best of whatever he has left after a long season. And we know he’s targeted this event, one of the few missing from his glorious resume. Thankfully for Nadal, he’s got a great draw but given the circumstances, he could just as easily lose all three than win all three. My guess is he’ll land somewhere in between and hope the math works in his favor.
David Ferrer: After a miserable summer, surprisingly it’s the indoor season that’s ignited a spark in the 31-year-old, and it comes at just the right time. David enters London off three straight finals including Paris where today he gave Djokovic a real tussle. Also, he matches up well with Berdych and Wawrinka and he just beat Rafa yesterday. So I give him a real shot here not just to make the last four but to win the group. To do it outright he’ll have to beat Rafa again on Tuesday.
Tomas Berdych: Mr. Disappointment should do well at an event like this. it’s indoors, quick surface, great draw. But more often than not he lets down, especially against the higher ranked guys. And really of late he’s shown nothing to suggest that won’t happen again – heck, he hasn’t beaten a Top 10er since Cincinnati. So while Tomas is always dangerous, I just don’t get the feeling he’s in it to win it here.
Stan Wawrinka: The lone debutante in the field will get his first taste of what it’s like at the Big Boys’ Table. Stan’s in a group in which he can do some damage – all winnable matches – but I just wonder if he has that belief. With all the pomp and gala of the event, this might be too big of an occasion for Stan to handle in his first time out. But he does open with Tomas who he has beaten five of the last six times so it could be a good start.
Predicted order of finish: Ferrer, Nadal, Berdych, Wawrinka
GROUP B: Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin Del Potro, Roger Federer, Richard Gasquet
Novak Djokovic: If I had to bet on one guy to make it to the semis, my money would be on Novak. Since the Open loss to Rafa he’s been the best player on the planet winning 17 straight and collecting three titles including Paris today. And he’s also healthy, he’s the defending champion and he’s got the motivation of the No. 1 ranking. Check, check and check. It’s a tough group, yes, but he’s already beaten his three counterparts during this recent run.
Juan Martin Del Potro: Second to Djokovic this fall, he’s the guy you just don’t want to play, especially in a controlled indoor environment. With his early loss Friday in Paris and a Monday match against Gasquet, I think he also should be fresh for his two big clashes with Djokovic and Federer. And he gets hot, watch out. The tournament is best-of-3 format (even the finals) and when he’s on his mark it can be over quick.
Roger Federer: Roger restored some hope in recent weeks with his Basel final and semifinal effort against Novak yesterday, so that’s good news. The bad news, however, is he’s stuck in the proverbial “Group of Death” as opposed to Rafa’s “Group of Dearth”. I think he’ll overwhelm Gasquet, but otherwise it will be tough to get a win. But as a six-time champion at the event, he’ll make it competitive at least.
Richard Gasquet: Unfortunately for the Frenchman, I just don’t see where the wins will come from. Gasquet’s playing well and after a good season he deserves the spot (with an assist to Murray), but in this group maybe he can beat Federer, maybe a set from Delpo, that’s it. Had he ended up in Group A he’d have a chance, just not here. That said, the pressure is off and with his talent, maybe he can pull the big surprise.
Predicted order of finish: Djokovic, Del Potro, Federer, Gasquet
Semifinals: Djokovic d Nadal, Del Potro d Ferrer
Final: Djokovic d Del Potro
The key matches: Nadal v Ferrer (will likely decide the Group A winner), Nadal v Berdych (could decide Group A second place), Federer v Delpo (will likely decide Group B second place).
In the end, I just think Djokovic is playing too well not to win. Del Potro’s also been the hot man while I’m just not sold on Nadal this time of year winning indoors. But like Federer, he also could surprise as could someone like Ferrer who seems to have returned to form.
As for Monday, I like Delpo over Gasquet and Tomas in three to beat Stan.
Matches begin tomorrow and Tennis Channel has live coverage until Thursday when ESPN2 takes over.
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