At long last, the end of the gureling ATP World Tour season is upon us. And with the end of the season comes the ultimate determining factor of who is the best of the best: the ATP World Tour finals.
The top eight players in the world, playing in a round robin tournament, for several appealing prizes: a large monetary winning, the crystaline and aesthetically beautiful ATP Masters shield, and (of course) the bragging rights of being crowned the ATP World Tour Champion. But who will take who the last prize of the 2009 season? Why don't we speculate:
The Top Eight: Who I predict the top eight singles players to be in the tournament.
2. Rafael Nadal
3. Novak Djokovic
4. Andy Murray
5. Juan Martin Del Potro
6. Andy Roddick
7. Nikolay Davydenko
8. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Roger Federer (1)
Novak Djokovic (3)
Juan Martin Del Potro (5)
Nikolay Davydenko (7)
Rafael Nadal (2)
Andy Murray (4)
Andy Roddick (6)
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (8)
Matchups and Results: Breaking down each round-robin matchup.
Group A: RR Round One
Federer vs. Djokovic- A blockbuster matchup (well, pretty much every match in this group of eight will be blockbuster) these two have met 14 times previously, with Federer holding a 9-5 advantage over the Serb.
However, their most recent match was in the finals last week in Federer's home town of Basel, and Djokovic took the match in three sets. The match is on an indoor hard court, just like the match in Basel.
Moreover, Federer hasn't beaten Djokovic in an indoor match ever. He's beaten the Djoker in outdoor hard courts, like the US Open, on several occasions, but it's moderatley different playing indoors. Winner: DJOKOVIC in three sets.
Del Potro vs. Davydenko - This is a severe contrast in styles, for the most part; Del Potro, the hard hitting Argentine, versus Davydenko, the gritty counterpunching baseliner from Russia. These two have only played three times before, with Davydenko holding a slender 2-1 lead.
However, the last time these two played each other was in last years Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. Del Potro was a shell of the player he was a year ago, as he has increased his consistency and dependency on his ground strokes so that his game can be characterized more as a controlled aggressor.
Moreover, Del Potro now has a Grand Slam title under his belt, beating Federer in a five-set thriller at the US Open in September. So, despite his amazing counterpunching prowess, it looks like Davydenko's out of luck. Winner: DEL POTRO in straight sets.
Djokovic vs. Del Potro -Ooh this is a juicy matchup: two young stars duking it out on a large stage. Their playing styles aren't really similar though there are some consistencies between the two. Both have consistent groundstrokes and prefer the "aggressive-baseliner" role so as to avoid coming up to net as much.
Djokovic holds a 3-0 lead in the head-to-head column, but, as in the case of Davydenko, the last time Djokovic beat Delpo on a hard court was in last years Tennis Masters Cup, when the Tandil native was a shell of a player he is now.
Djokovic has beaten Del Potro on clay earlier this year, but the red and powdery surface is not really compatable with Delpo's game, as it nuetralizes alot of his power. On the indoor hard courts and perfect conditions of London's O2 Arena, the Djoker won't be laughing at the end of his match with the hard-hitting Argentine. Winner: DEL POTRO in straight sets.
Federer vs. Davydenko - This one won't last very long. Federer boasts a 12-0 lead in the head-to-head versus Davydenko, and though they haven't played in over a year, the Russian, who is at the tail end of his career, hasn't made any drastic changes to his playing level. Moreover, Federer's relaxed. Yikes. Winner: FEDERER in straight sets.
Djokovic vs. Davydenko - This is just another situation where Davydenko is overmatched. Djokovic is younger, more energetic, and just a better all-around player than Davydenko. The only chance Davydenko has is if he can bring Djokovic up to net, but even that's a long shot. No need to even look at the head-to-head. Check-mark to Nole. Winner: DJOKOVIC in straight sets.
Federer vs. Del Potro - A rematch of the US Open final will no doubt be entertaining. That particular match was a thrilling five-setter, in which Del Potro came out on top. Believe it or not, Delpo's US Open win was his first against Federer, and it may serve as a catalyst for increased confidence when going against the 15-time Grand Slam champion. I think it's going to be another thriller, with Del Potro's confidence being one of the big factors.
However, it seems that whenever people begin to think Fed's not going to beat someone, he ends up conjuring a magical performance. Moreover, the stakes are high, and Federer's newfound relaxation will prove to be the deciding factor in this match. Winner: FEDERER in three sets.
Group A Records (RR Round One)
1. Juan Martin Del Potro (2-1)
2. Roger Federer (2-1)
3. Novak Djokovic (2-1)
4. Nikolay Davydenko (0-3)
(Fed is at one, Delpo is at two, and Djokovic is at three because of tiebreaker regulations. Djokovic beat Federer, Federer beat Del Potro, and Del Potro beat Djokovic, so tournament head-to-head victories become obsolete.
Strength of victory is the next determining factor, and this is why Delpo is No. 1. The Argentine had the biggest margin of victory between the three, and since both Federer and Delpo beat Djokovic, Nole is unfortunately the odd man out.)
Group B- RR Round One
Nadal vs. Murray - You couldn't ask for a more scintillating first-matchup for the second group, right? Two of the best players in the world in Murray and Nadal duking it out in Murray's home country (ok ok hes not really British, he's Scottish. Big deal...). It's going to be a shoot out.
Nadal holds a 7-2 head-to-head lead, with three of those wins coming in this year, but he has not played Murray since coming back from knee tendinitis in mid-August. Additionally, Murray has exponentially improved since the beginning of the year, and he continues to strive for perfection, or as close to perfection as one can come.
As stated previously, this is an indoor hard-court match, which means perfect conditions, as well as faster-moving balls. The perfect conditions would make for some low-mistake tennis, as neither of these guys are prone to go for broke on their shots. In the end, it seems as if the crowds' support of Murray will be the determining factor. Winner: MURRAY in three sets.
Roddick vs. Tsonga - The powerful Texan-boy versus the energetic and charismatic Frenchman. It's been over a year since these two have played each other, and though Roddick is ranked higher, the Frenchman can play with the best of them. In their last matchup, Tsonga won a three-setter in the ATP Masters event in Paris, where the home crowd undoubtedly swayed momentum onto Tsonga's side.
Jo-Willy has also improved greatly in the last year and a half, after finally getting fully healthy and getting alot of matches under his belt. Though Roddick has a couple of big weapons (his serve and forehand), it probably won't be enough to counter the plethora of weapons Jo-Willy has in his all-courter arsenal. Winner: TSONGA in straight sets .
Nadal vs. Roddick - While on paper this match might seem relatively close, it won't be. Nadal hasn't lost to Roddick in a match since the beginning of 2008, and that match was an exhibition match. He's too consistent and has too much mental strength for Roddick. Vamos Rafa. Winner: NADAL in straight sets.
Murray vs. Tsonga - This match will be somewhat of a contrast in styles. Murray is more of a counterpuncher, and he will square of against an aggressive baseliner who isn't afraid to come up to net in Tsonga.
The true deciding factor in this match will be whether Tsonga can remain relatively consistent, because you know that Murray's not going to make many unforced errors. If Tsonga can implement a tactic of controlled agression, this match will be fun to watch. All in all, however, Murray will be too consistent for Tsonga. Winner: MURRAY in straight sets.
Nadal vs. Tsonga - These two have faced just three times in the past, once in 2009. This one 2009 matchup was also, coincidentally, on an indoor hard court. Nadal took that match in three close sets, suggesting that the match really could have gone either way.
Tsonga has beaten Nadal convincingly before. In the 2008 Australian open semi-finals, Tsonga demolished Nadal in straight sets, losing only seven games. However, that was a year ago, and Tsonga was on fire. Don't expect Tsonga to be that hot again. It will be relatively close, but no cigar for the Frenchman. Winner: NADAL in straight sets.
Murray vs. Roddick - This is a rematch of the 2009 Wimbledon semi-final. Murray, holding the hopes and dreams of an entire nation on his shoulders, came into that match as a heavy favorite, and ended up losing to Roddick, who played one of the best matches of his career.
I'm thinking that Murray would want to enact revenge on the man who ended his hopes of becoming the first British Wimbledon champion in 76 years. He will play a clean match, like he always does, and Roddick's biggest weapons won't be as useful on the hardcourt surface that is slower than the lawns of Wimbledon. Winner: MURRAY in straight sets.
Group B Records (RR Round One)
1. Andy Murray (3-0)
2. Rafael Nadal (2-1)
3. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (1-2)
4. Andy Roddick (0-3)
On to the semi-finals...
Group A (RR Semis)
Federer vs. Del Potro - The first time around, the advantage was slightly with on Federer's side. This time around, Del Potro would have had a chance to get accustomed to Fed's gameplan based on the first match that they played.
However, the fact of the matter remains that Federer is playing relaxed tennis and he will continue to play this way, especially in the perfect conditions of the indoor hard courts. Moreover, no one is better at changing tactics beautifully than Federer. Additionally, Fed will be more accustomed with Delpo's gameplan, and will take advantage accordingly. Winner: FEDERER in straight sets.
GROUP B (RR Semis)
Nadal vs. Murray - For the second time in this tournament alone, we have Rafa versus Andy on Andy's home soil (essentially). The first time around, we had Murray slightly edging Rafa in a three-setter. This time around, the momentum will certainly be on Murray's side.
With the tournament drawing to a close, the energy will be ecstatic, and with all the crowd support for Murray (and probably against Rafa), Andy will have a lot of momentum and energy simply from feeding off the crowd.
Also, as the tournament is near its end, you can almost be certain that Nadal's stamina is wavering, as it always does in hard-court tournaments. The constant running on the hard surface will certainly take a toll on his knees, and it will show. Winner: MURRAY in straight sets.
Federer vs. Murray - This is what many predicted to be the matchup in the Wimbledon final before Andy Roddick played the role of a spoiler. There is a good chance that the British crowd will treat this match with close to the same brevity as the Wimbledon final; perhaps not as much enthusiasm, but close to it. The crowd will be raucously cheering, and there will be unwavering fanfare throughout the match.
Adding to the hype is the fact that Murray actually boasts a 6-3 head-to-head lead against Federer, including two straight wins against Fed in consecutive weeks at the beginning of the year. Additionally, you just have to look at how consistently Murray is playing at the current time.
Though Federer is playing the most relaxed tennis of his career, it seems as though the crowd's support for Murray and Murray's determination to win on his home soil at the final Masters event of the year will be the explanatory variables in this match. It will be a moderate best-out-of-five-set slugfest, and will have all the energy and excitement that a match with players of this magnitude should have.
But in the end, those few explanatory variables will prove to be too much for Fed to overcome. Winner: MURRAY in four sets.