If I told you at the start of the year that only two players from the 2016 ATP Finals would qualify for the 2017 edition, you might see that. But you’d think I’m certifiably nuts if I told you neither of those two would be Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray. But that’s exactly what happened.
No Djokovic, no Murray. The only two from the 2016 tournament to return are Marin Cilic and Dominic Thiem.
Djokovic and Murray along with Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka all failed to finish the season due to injury while Gael Monfils just wasn’t good enough to get in.
But all is not lost. Replacing Novak and Andy are legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal who return to the robin robin event. And as the lone former champion in the field, Federer is the overwhelming favorite.
Nadal comes in on an injury cloud following yet another knee issue. The 31-year-old says he’s fit, but he’s never won the title and with No. 1 wrapped up, does he want to push it on that knee?
Also joining in are four new faces to the event- Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin and Jack Sock who nipped Pablo Carreno Busta at the finish line by winning Paris.
One could certainly see Zverev and maybe Dimitrov getting in, but Goffin and Sock? They should thank the lucky stars…
So do any of these new faces have a shot, or will the Roger-Rafa show continue?
Let’s handicap the groups.
BORIS BECKER (Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday)
Of the two groups, this is far the tougher with four healthy guys and all four have won Masters titles on hardcourts. With seven titles here, Federer is the choice and after a few weeks off following trophies in Shanghai and Basel, he should be rested and revved up. Maybe Cilic gives him trouble, otherwise he wins the group. I think the second place match comes down to the winner tomorrow between big men Zverev and Cilic. Though neither of them are playing particularly well this fall, I give that winner the edge over Sock.
Roger Federer (3-0): Riding a 10-match win streak entering, I don’t see anyone slowing him down here.
Alexander Zverev (2-1): Beats Cilic in debut and Sock on Thursday to get in.
Marin Cilic (1-2): I just think he might not have the “spark” in that crucial opener tomorrow.
Jack Sock (0-3): Give him credit for winning Paris, but he didn’t face anyone in the Top 15. That changes this week.
PETE SAMPRAS (Monday, Wednesday, Friday)
How healthy is Rafa? We don’t know. We won’t know until Monday. Still, in a weak group, you have to like his chances against Thiem and Goffin. I think Dimitrov will be differnt matter. So if Rafa’s knee is OK, I think he makes the weekend, then I lean to Dimitrov to edge Thiem on Monday and take second. If Rafa can’t go or pulls out, Thiem is the guy, and a slower court would lift the Austrian’s hopes.
Grigor Dimitrov (2-1): Stuns Nadal on Wednesday and Friday mathematics give him the group win.
Rafael Nadal (2-1): Knee not 100%, but still gives it a fight, though falls short of the title yet again. Still a fantastic year finishing No. 1, a well-deserved honor.
Dominic Thiem (2-1): Loss to Dimitrov Monday costs him a weekend slot.
David Goffin (0-3): I think he gets some sets, but not two in any match. Still a great year.
Federer d Nadal: Federer does it again, denies Rafa.
Zverev d Dimitrov: Zverev too much firepower indoors.
Federer d Zverev: Federer finishes season on a 15-match win streak and his 8th ATP Finals title. Not bad for a 36-year-old. Looks promising for 2018!
As I said, with Nadal’s knee issue and so many unproven players in the field, Federer is the clear favorite, there’s no debate. If Rafa’s healthy, he’s next. Then I put Zverev and then Dimitrov.
If the court is playing fast, then Cilic might have a chance to surprise. If it’s slow, Thiem gets a boost.
But I’m anxious to see how Zverev fares. The German has gone just 8-7 since winning Canada. I get he’s maybe fading out, but this is a big time event and if he wants to be the next big star, he needs to overcome that.
And with all in the absentees, what an opportunity for someone we’d never thought would qualify or ever qualify for this event to make it to the weekend.
Tennis Channel has early round-robin coverage before ESPN takes over on Thursday.
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