Friday
Nov112016

Big boys prepare for battle

As the world’s best players head to The O2 arena in London for the ATP World Tour Finals, let’s take a look at the line-up and see who’s likely to be crowned the best of the best at the end of next week, and how it might affect the race to be the year-end No 1.

Good form is invaluable and trumps all historical records.

This year’s line-up will be somewhat of a shock to long-time tennis fans as the tournament will be without six-time champ, Roger Federer, who has missed the cut for the first time since 2001. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge what a phenomenal achievement it was for Roger to feature in this elite group of players for the past 14 years. His debut event was so long ago that Andre Agassi was still part of the top eight! He will be sorely missed, along with Rafael Nadal who qualified in eighth position but won’t be competing again until next season.

In Group John McEnroe, newly crowned No 1, Murray, will compete against Wawrinka, Cilic and Nishikori in the initial stages, while Djokovic will head up Group Ivan Lendl, which also consists of Raonic, Monfils and Thiem.

Murray will go into the tournament as the favourite, not just on paper but due to his scintillating recent form that has him on a 19-match winning streak. Coach Lendl’s job will be to ensure Murray remains focussed on riding this wave and doesn’t dwell on the past - like the fact that Cilic and Nishikori are amongst the few players he has lost to this year, or his poor record at the event, having only ever reached as far as the semi-finals.

Djokovic’s recent slump in form, in comparison to the lofty heights he has taken his game to in recent years, will be of great concern to him. But he will take solace in the fact that he has never lost a match against any of the players in his group - his combined head-to-head is 23-0. This draw, combined with the fact that as a five-time champion he has made this tournament his own in recent years, should help him ease into the event. He’ll have plenty of motivation to bring out his best in order to reclaim the No 1 ranking, which he had held for 122 consecutive weeks.

Should both men make it through to the final, it would be a dream end to the season, as the winner would take the prestigious title of season ending No 1. Djokovic has history on his side. Almost every stat you can come up with, prior to his slump, would indicate that he should have the edge, from his vastly superior haul of big titles, to his record at this event, to his dominant head-to-head (24-10).

But good form is invaluable and trumps all historical records. Along with his skillful game, Andy’s ascent has shown he has the goods upstairs too. This makes the title his to win or lose. But if he does face Novak, he will be asked a question that will put him on the spot: “Do you REALLY think you’re better than ME?” His response will determine whether he’ll be a "one-week wonder" or a No 1 of note.

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