ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS 2011- THE RACE TO O2

The year of the Djoker is nearing its end. With more than 14000 ATP ranking points to his credit this year, he has probably broken a season-high record too. With 9 tournament wins, 3 Slams and another year end qualification in the bag, Novak will be looking to follow up his unexpected 2008 victory up with another World Tour Title. That could just about wrap up the most dominant year in World Sports…after the Indian cricket team, of course. Oh, the year didn’t end in June? Sorry, my bad. 

Mere statistics don’t tell the story, and he was the first to qualify for the World Tour Finals (London- November). What’s more- he qualified after Wimbledon itself. 


Usual Suspects

Rafa Nadal was the second man to qualify- a week after Wimbledon. He has had a pretty good year by any mortal standards, but this is Nadal we’re talking about. He never reached finals to lose in them. He reached them to take titles. But this year, apart from the French Open, his final record has taken a bit of beating- thanks to the Djoker. Nevertheless, with a few tournament wins, Nadal at 10300 points is way ahead of soon-to-be-ex-rival Roger Federer in third place.  

Roger Federer has only ONE tournament win in 2011. Doha, way back in January. A pathetic year, by his immortal standards. No Slam, no Masters wins ( just one Masters Final ) and plenty of upsets that include two unbelievable losses to Tsonga. Still, the rest of the field is so far behind as far as sheer semi-final consistency is concerned, apart from Roger spacing out his calendar like a true veteran on his last legs, that the man remains at number three- a good 1300 points ahead of the fourth-placed flattering-to-deceive Brit Andy Murray.  

Andy Murray, the best of the rest, the King of Hard Court Masters and ATP 500 tournaments- is at number 4 and almost 3000 points ahead of next challenger David Ferrer ( the second Spaniard in the top 8 ) Murray has a few prestigious tournament wins to his name this year- Cincinnati and Bangkok- but considering his previously solid record in ATP 1000 Masters competitions, three first round exits in a single year don’t look good on the resume of a player that is destined to remain the best number 4 of all time. His consistent Grand Slam record- An Australian Open final, followed by Semi-final appearances in the rest of the slams, has put allowed him to qualify quite safely for O2.
The top 4 have all qualified more than twice for the Championships, and will enter familiar territory once again. Federer and Djokovic are out of action for the month of October, and might return directly for the Paris Masters.  

Red Knight Rises

4 slots filled. 4 to go. Here is a quick lowdown on the favorites for the slots and current positions: 

David Ferrer, currently at number 5, holds a decent 700 point advantage over the dipping Robin Soderling. All Ferrer needs to do is show up and put up a decent last-4 performance at Tokyo- his next appearance- and he will be assured of a spot for the prestigious competition. But with Nadal, Murray, Fish and Tipsarevic playing at Tokyo too, this will require quite the herculean effort from the Spaniard on the hard courts of Tokyo, which he won way back in 2007- and to think, he was once known as a better clay-courter than Nadal. Oh, things have changed. Nevertheless, Ferrer has more than one opportunity to seal his spot, and he is favorite to do so.  

Robin Soderling, at number 6, is in with a shout for a spot- considering that he is almost 1000 points ahead of Tsonga at 8. But he isn’t playing a tournament this week, and will most probably participate in the Shanghai Masters next week. Suffering from Mononucleosis, just like Federer did in 2008, Soderling’s long-term participation this year may be threatened due to the crippling weakness this disease causes. Sub-par performances over the second half of the year have enabled Ferrer to overtake him in the rankings, after Soderling was actually number 4 in January ahead of Murray. Soderling has, in fact, won the maximum amount of titles after Djokovic this year, with 4. So what if they’re only ATP 500 tournaments? A win is a win is a win. 

French Toast

Tsonga, the fiery Frenchman, is at number 7 in a FOUR-way tussle for the last two spots ( top 8 ) with Fish, Monfils and Berdych. The gap between them? Less than 100 points, much like the next four after Vettel in the F1 Championship. Monfils, Berdych and Tsonga play at China for some vital points before the Masters, and Fish plays at Tokyo- for he genuinely thinks he can beat Rafa Nadal or Murray in current form. The month of October is crucial for the four contenders, with players like Fish and Monfils yet to make an appearance at the ATP World Tour Finals.
And as legend has it, it is normally the underdog, riding high on confidence and form after making a late run towards this tournament, who takes away the honours during the upset-ridden week. The top 4 have always been around, but the lesser players in the top 8 tend to put up stellar showings, causing an upset or two- and inevitably hurting one out of the top three. It was Murray last year, Djokovic in 2009 and Nadal in 2008. Federer, too, was upset in 2009.  

For the record, the last three World Tour Finals have been won by Federer ( 2010 ), Davydenko ( 2009 ) and Djokovic ( 2008 ). Murray and Nadal are yet to make their presence felt. In fact, even Ferrer has reached a final here.  

Onto Beijing, Tokyo and onward to Shanghai for the big one. One doesn’t see Tsonga and Monfils, the mad Frenchmen, losing this race anytime soon. 

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