Pre-Barclays Power Rankings
As the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals begin on Sunday in London, it is prudent to assess the top eight players' power rankings heading into the tournament.
It might have livened up the conversation had the groups been given some memorable tags like “black and blue,” “over and under,” “sound and fury,” or even “tea and crumpets.” The potential list is endless. The point is “A” and “B” are unimaginative and quite boring—which is what this tournament promises not to be.
The Top 10
1. Novak Djokovic (798 points) B-Group
(Last Power Ranking: 1; ATP Ranking: 3)
Last Four Tournaments: Paris Masters [Winner], Basel [Winner], Shanghai Masters [SF], Beijing [Winner]
Once again Djokovic has awakened to find himself transformed into a media darling with superlatives raining down from on high describing his simply fabulous play of late.
That must give the Serb a surge of confidence as he takes the court, especially after winning his first Masters shield at the Paribas Masters in Paris. In the last month he has managed to beat everyone on his way to London, winning 18 of his last 19 matches.
His only loss has come to Nikolay Davydenko at the China Open. Wouldn’t you know that is who the Serb is going to open against on Monday. Life is ironic that way. Last year Djokovic and Davydenko played in the finals of this same year-end championship in Shanghai with the Serb taking home the trophy.
Although everyone is pasting Djokovic’s name in the win column, it is not going to be easy to beat the wily Russian, especially while hoisting a mountain-load of expectation at the same time.
Outlook for London: Djokovic has no picnic outing here. He must meet Davydenko, a player with whom he has split four matches. Then he must meet Rafael Nadal, who has a 14-6 edge in their head to head. Finally he must overcome Robin Soderling, against whom he has a perfect 5-0 record—but he has not met Soderling lately, and the Swede is dangerous. Just ask Nadal.
2. Rafael Nadal (371 points) B-Group
(Last Power Ranking: 3; ATP Ranking: 2)
Last Four Tournaments: Paris Masters [SF], Shanghai Masters [Final], Beijing [SF], US Open [SF]
Nadal resumed the path to recovery after spending half of 2009 injured. His defeat at the French Open by Soderling marked the beginning of a long descent into pain and absence.
Nadal could not even defend his Wimbledon Crown. Still, he has begun the long journey back. If we have learned anything watching the talented Spaniard claw his way to the top—it is never count Nadal out. He is rested but rusty. So are many entering this tournament.
Perhaps Nadal is saving his best for last. One thing's for sure about the world No. 2—he will go down swinging.
Outlook for London: Nadal has not returned to form completely enough to win this championship. He lacks match play, affecting his timing. No doubt the talent is still there, as is the desire. Hardcourts, especially indoor, have never been his forte. He lost the last time he played each man in his round robin. Nadal, however, will make them work for it, and he will get his licks in during his matches.
3. Roger Federer (286 points) A-Group
(Last Power Ranking: 8; ATP Ranking: 1)
Last Four Tournaments: Paris Masters [R32], Basel [Final], US Open [Final], Cincinnati [Winner]
Seemingly always the focal point of every tournament he enters, toting his legion of fans, Federer appears to be favored by many to win the whole tournament—based on past performances. Even so, there are those who insist he is in decline, not at his peak, seen better days, off his feed, and so on.
Federer himself will not know his condition or his state of mind until he hits the hard courts in London. His draw, although seemingly filled with dreaded opponents, must have seemed a relief to Federer because these are the cream of the crop and he has feasted on them all in the past. He knows how to beat them at their best—he just needs to summon his “A” game to do it.
Federer, favored to win his opener, is 3-0 against Fernando Verdasco. Ultimately he wants that year-end No. 1 ranking and his fifth Masters Tour Championship. He has won it four years, the last two in 2006-2007. Last year he lost in the semis to Andy Murray.
Outlook for London: Federer never enters any tournament expecting to lose or just hoping he does well. He expects to win and the Swiss will do his utmost to fulfill that promise. He should get by Verdasco and Juan Martin del Potro. His true test will come against Murray. As usual. Murray loves nothing more than defeating Federer. He did so last year before running out of gas.
4. Juan Martin del Potro (273 points) A-Group
(Last Power Ranking: 6; ATP Ranking: 5)
Last Four Tournaments: Paris Masters [QF], Shanghai Masters [R32], Tokyo [R32], US Open [Winner]
Del Potro has not managed to produce his top form since this summer's U.S. Open. That win took everything he had to give and more. Unfortunately, the Argentine has not recovered his game since then.
Injuries continue to plague his ability to endure even three-set contests of late. He faces Murray first on Sunday. Del Potro with his recent abdomen strain is an unknown quantity in this tournament. Will he be forced to retire again? He and Murray have met five times with Murray winning four. Look for Murray to repeat and win here.
Outlook for London: It seems highly unlikely that del Potro has enough left to survive the round robin format required in this tournament. Too much tennis in too little time for the big man.
5. Nikolay Davydenko (272 points) B-Group
(Last Power Ranking: 7; ATP Ranking: 7)
Last Four Tournaments: Paris Masters [R16], Valencia [SF], Moscow [R32], Shanghai Masters [Winner]
This part of the year for Davydenko is prime time. He loves the fast indoor courts and has been playing extremely well of late. Last year he met Djokovic in the finals of the year-end Masters and lost. In their most recent matchup in Shanghai, Davydenko won.
They are even through four matches. Although most predict that Djokovic will win this match, it is not an easy match for either player to enter feeling entirely confident. The Russian, however, is in good shape and has plenty of match play to bolster his confidence.
Outlook for London: Davydenko is fast on his feet and he can exert real power, hitting angles and lines. So can Djokovic. The Serb’s improving serve and his growing confidence make this a tough matchup for the Russian out of the gates.
6. Andy Murray (254 points) A-Group
(Last Power Ranking: 5; ATP Ranking: 4)
Last Four Tournaments: Paris Masters [R16], Valencia [Winner], US Open [R16], Cincinnati Masters [SF]
At this point there are more questions than answers regarding the wily Scot, who suffered from a wrist injury through most of the indoor season. True, he did come back and win Valencia after his long layoff, but he faded quickly in Paris and seemed to exude slow-footedness and deficit reaction time.
Murray just could not quite get there in time to hit a great return. Whether the weeklong layoff has been sufficient to quell all his aches and pains and restart his engine, we will know shortly. Murray once more will shoulder an enormous load of expectation as the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals are being held in London. While the Scot never sufficiently handled it at Wimbledon, maybe the indoor site will prove a more congenial setting.
Outlook for London: Regardless of its fairness, people are growing weary of waiting for the Scot to break through and win a major. Capturing the ATP Masters Tour Championship would go a long way toward silencing the clamor. This must be uppermost in Murray’s mind as he meets del Potro on Sunday. Good incentive to put the Argentine away.
7. Robin Soderling (164 points) B-Group
(Last Power Ranking: 10; ATP Ranking: 9)
Last Four Tournaments: Paris Masters [QF], Stockholm [SF], Shanghai Masters [QF], Beijing [SF]
With Andy Roddick's withdrawal from the event because of injury, Soderling becomes the first Swede to participate in the ATP World Tour Finals since Thomas Johansson did in 2002.
The hard-serving Soderling with the rocket forehand was the man to deny Nadal another triumph in Stade Roland Garros. They meet for the first time since that match on Monday in London. It will be viewed with much interest. Soderling has proven himself worthy, climbing to the No. 9 ranking in the ATP.
Outlook for London: No one will be happy to meet the Swede. Indoors is where Soderling shines because there are no aberrant winds or unpleasant weather to make conditions difficult. Assuming he is fully healthy, the defiant Swede will, no doubt, create havoc on his side of the draw.
8. Fernando Verdasco (120 points) A-Group
(Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 8)
Last Four Tournaments: Paris Masters [R3], Valencia [Semifinals], Shanghai Masters [R1], China Open [Quarterfinalist].
Verdasco’s run at the Australian Open cemented him at the top of the men’s game in 2009. Now the Spaniard is apparently another of the walking wounded whose numbers have swelled the past few months.
An abdomen tear slowed him down, and he has had a difficult indoor season. Questions remain about his fitness after playing at half-strength throughout the fall. In his first match at the season-ending tournament, he meets world No. 1 Roger Federer. He has never defeated the Swiss—in fact, never taken a set from him—in their three meetings.
Outlook for London: It would appear almost hopeless for Verdasco, especially if he continues to be constrained by his lingering injury. But nothing ever is in the game of tennis. That is why we play the games.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (116 points)
(Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 10)
With as many wounded as their appear to be, Tsonga may very well see action at some point in this tournament. The Frenchman has worked and trained hard to improve his game and make his way into the ATP top 10. He will be eagerly awaiting his chance.