The best of the best, the top 8, have reached London for the prestigious season-ending Masters event. This time, for the first time since 2003, there is no Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal – which means that there are two debutants of the tournament – Gael Monfils and Austrian star Dominic Thiem.
The eight players reached London in this order: Andy Murray (1), Novak Djokovic (2), Stan Wawrinka (3), Milos Raonic (4), Kei Nishikori (5), Gael Monfils (6), Marin Cilic (7) and Thiem (8). Rafael Nadal, who was initially in eighth place, will not compete because he pulled out of the season a month ago.
For the first time in ages, this tournament will serve as the battle-ground for the season-ending number 1 ranking. Usually, either Djokovic or Nadal or Roger Federer (who is now ranked 16 in an injury-hit season) would have the position sealed up. But Murray and Djokovic have everything to play for.
The two groups this time – the John McEnroe Group and the Ivan Lendl Group. And no, Murray finds himself in the McEnroe group, contrary to popular perception.
Lendl: Djokovic, Monfils, Raonic, Thiem
McEnroe: Murray, Wawrinka, Nishikori, Cilic
Straight up, it appears as if Murray has the tougher group to navigate on paper. Since it’s a round-robin tournament, a loss wouldn’t hurt too much, but two out of three would mean curtains. Murray has never won this tournament. Djokovic is trying to win it for the sixth time.
Djokovic won his first match against Thiem in three sets – the first being a hard-fought tiebreak in which Thiem won it on his seventh set point. But the real Nole came storming back, letting Thiem win only two games in the next two sets – hurting his game-set ratio, and getting off to a winning start just the way he’d want to.
In the second match on Sunday, Raonic put himself in pole position in the group by defeating Monfils in straight sets. This means it could be a battle between Djokovic and Raonic for the first two spots into the semifinals.
Predictions: Djokovic v/s Raonic will be the clincher for top spot. My bet is on the hard-hitting Raonic.
Andy Murray will first face Marin Cilic – an all or bust player, who will be dangerous on the quicker courts here. Wawrinka will face Nishikori first up, and perhaps the winner of this match will follow Murray into second spot in the group. Either way, this one is hard to predict, because all four players are capable of defeating anybody on their day. Nishikori and Cilic defeated the big guns in the US Open 2014 to contest one of the rare non-big-4 Grand Slam finals, which Cilic won eventually.
Predictions: Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka. The match between them will be fascinating to watch.
Milos Raonic v/s Stan Wawrinka
Andy Murray v/s Novak Djokovic
We could have the top 2 facing as early as the semis – during which it will become a direct shoot-off for the number 1 ranking. Murray, on form, is the favourite. But Djokovic has been here way too often, and has what it takes to win this even if he isn’t at his best.
Milos Raonic v/s Andy Murray
Murray to end the year as number one for the first time in his career? Quite possible.