The Hottest Storylines in Men's Tennis for the Week of October 21
Hottest storylines. Men's tennis. London.
The three are synonymous.
This time of year is all about the Race to London with the goal of the ATP World Tour Finals. It is the prize that can make the rest of the year pale in comparison. It can be the crowning achievement to a great season. It can redeem a series of poor performances.
And it can rejuvenate a career.
This week, in pursuit of these things the top Swiss players return to native soil. The best, too, go to Basel. The also-rans head to Valencia, Spain along with London-bound David Ferrer. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Milos Raonic take a break from the race.
Four will see their chances strengthened.
Here's the week ahead.
Basel Beckons Swiss Stars
Basel is in Switzerland. There are two Swiss players in the top 10. Seems like a perfect match.
Roger Federer has long thought so.
Alas, he is only the No. 2 player from this European country now. Stan is the man, for sure. It would be silly, however, to count Federer out even at this point in his career. His match record at the hometown tournament is 47-8. He has been in nine finals and won five of them.
Even with a contractual dispute with the tournament directors, ESPN reported (via AP) that he told the Swiss paper Tages Anzeiger "everyone knows how much this tournament means to me and that is still true."
Stanislas Wawrinka is 9-9 over nine visits to the tourney. He has reached two semifinals; Federer beat him in one of those. Last year, Wawrinka was upset by No. 42 Nikolay Davydenko in the first round, 6-7 (7), 6-7 (3).
This year, though, Wawrinka comes in at his highest ranking ever: No. 8.
Based upon Basel's seeding, with Federer No. 3 and Wawrinka No. 4, the two could theoretically meet in the finals. That is where things get a bit iffy for Wawrinka. He is slightly behind in the head-to-head, one win versus 13 losses.
So if the two Swiss stars get to the final, what hope does Wawrinka have? Probably much more than the statistics between the two would indicate.
Federer has lost twelve times this year to lesser-ranked players.
The Best Go to Basel
Basel is bringing out the best in tennis. Five of the world's top 10 players will be playing there this week, and four of them are anxious to gain points in the Race to London. Juan Martin Del Potro has already qualified with his run in Shanghai.
This may be the most important of the Masters 500 tournaments this year.
The fun part of this week will be the head-to-head nature of the competition. It is not enough for the berth-seeking players to gain points over the next two weeks. The easiest way to secure entry into the Barclays World Tour Finals is to earn points at the expense of the other competitors.
That is exactly why all of the contenders are playing the same tournament.
Looking ahead to the later rounds in Basel, the match-ups could be intriguing. If all goes according to form, Roger Federer will meet Tomas Berdych in one semifinal, while the other would bring Juan Martin Del Potro versus Stanislas Wawrinka.
Berdych has won the last two meetings, and Del Potro has won the previous three. Advantage Berdych in his bid for London.
The predicted results leave Richard Gasquet potentially on the outside looking in.
And there's only one tournament left.
The Rest Go to Valencia
Sorry, tournament organizers at the Valencia Open 500. Your tournament really doesn't matter this year. There is just no intrigue whatsoever.
This time of the year really centers around the Race to London. All eyes are on the Barclays.
None of those eyes are in Spain this week. Top-seeded David Ferrer has been qualified for the World Tour Finals for some time now. Technically, second-seeded Tommy Haas has a chance to qualify. That is, if he wins the tournament, nearly everyone above him loses, and a few pigs fly.
Haas is number 12 in the Emirates rankings, which determine the final eight. He needs to jump three spots (because Andy Murray has withdrawn) in two weeks.
That's a pretty tall order.
And it's not guaranteed that he will even gain the points to do all he can while awaiting others' demises. John Isner could meet him in the semifinals, and he has only three wins versus three loses against the rangy American.
And then there's that 0-4 record against potential finalist David Ferrer.
In other words, and again all apologies to Valencia, there is not much to be expected or delivered at this year's tournament.
Tsonga and Raonic Give Ground
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Milos Raonic are idle this week. That means they will give up ground and precious points to the rest of the players as the battle for Barclays heats up.
Idle means backwards.
The decisions by these two players are really inexplicable. Currently, Tsonga is No. 10 in the Race to London, which means he is only one place out of the final spot. Raonic is in a little more precarious position, at No. 11.
That means Tsonga is only 65 points out, and Raonic 350 back.
But those numbers will change rapidly this week. With Stanislas Wawrinka, Roger Federer and Richard Gasquet all in action it is all but impossible for anyone else to get in.
Tsonga's chances were already getting slim, as CNN reported. After he was upset in the finals of the Erste Bank Open last week, the French player was blunt in his self-assessment:
I tried everything I could but it wasn't enough today. I just didn't play well enough. I'm not in the best of shape and it showed out there. But I have to keep playing if I want to make it to London. I had my chances but he was too good. I just have to keep fighting and trying to win matches.
Perhaps the two are waiting for the BNP Paribas in Paris next week. It has many more points to offer, being a Masters 1000 tournament as opposed to this week's Masters 500.
By then, however, it will be too late. Expect the field to be finalized the day before.
Four for London
Four spots left. Five players fighting for them. One of them fighting from home, hoping for the others to falter.
Intriguing, or not?
It seems like the field for the Barclays World Tour Finals is set already. The points afforded to Tomas Berdych, Stanislas Wawrinka, Roger Federer and Richard Gasquet should be more than enough to cement their positions, even though their last appearances were shaky.
In Shanghai, Berdych and Federer both lost in the round of 16. Berdych went down to No. 16 Nicolas Almagro, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 6-7 (4). Federer fell to No. 42 Gael Monfils, 4-6, 7-6 (5), 3-6. Federer attempted to shrug off the loss, which the BBC described as making his chances for London "increasingly shaky."
Wawrinka fared better, getting to the quarters before bowing out to Rafael Nadal, 6-7 (10), 1-6.
Gasquet has the most momentum on his side entering the penultimate week of the season. He won his last event, in Moscow. The only blemish on that result is the fact that the highest-ranked player he faced in that tournament was No. 84 Evgeny Donskoy, beating him narrowly, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.
Still, it would appear that all four will make it.
At least Andy Murray thinks so. On October 19, the Scot posted this to his official Twitter account: "Which players are making the world tour finals? I'm taking Stan roger and gasquet."