Moving the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals to London in 2009 was a brilliant stroke. The tournament now lives in the moment, relevant and scintillating.
What could be more fitting than to crown the world’s best in the land of tennis where Wimbledon stands as a shrine and anointing a homegrown champion remains a national obsession?
Shanghai, on the other hand, seemed strangely remote and foreign because of the time difference and the sparse attendance by crowds who did not fully appreciate the tennis they witnessed. Tennis match results bore the stamp of yesterday’s news—like trying to emulate Boy George in Pigeon English—a little bizarre and unreal.
This year the draws created a multitude of potential scenarios depending on who won and by how much. Apparently, there is so much parity in the top eight that all matches won and lost expanded new possibilities.
Engaged in Group A were: Roger Federer (1), Andy Murray (4), Juan Martin del Potro (5), and Fernando Verdasco (7). Competing in Group B were: Rafael Nadal (2), Novak Djokovic (3), Nikolay Davydenko (6), and Robin Soderling (8).
So what have we witnessed that surprised us?
Fernando Verdasco (7)
To be perfectly honest, we expected Verdasco to be eliminated. But he was competitive in each and every match, taking Roger Federer, Juan Martin del Potro, and Andy Murray to three sets before losing in the end. It was Verdasco’s play against his three competitors that created the confusing conclusion to determine which players advanced to the semis from Group A.
Andrew Murray (4)
With the ATP World Tour Finals in London, very much a Murray “hometown” setting, there was much hope for the Scotsman to advance and win this championship.
He started out well by defeating the No. 5 seed, del Potro, in three sets, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. It was a great opening salvo. However, he did not fare so well against the No. 1 seed in Federer.
Murray went down to defeat, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, much to the dismay of his legion of fans in London. That meant, of course, he needed to defeat Verdasco, preferably in straight sets.
He did defeat the Spaniard, but with not enough of a margin to win a spot in the semis. Murray came up one game short of advancing to play on Saturday.
Juan Martin Del Potro (5)
Del Potro lost his opening match to Murray in an epic struggle, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2. The Argentine had lost five of his last six matches to the Scot.
Del Potro was so upset by his loss that he could not come out of his room even to join his coach for dinner. Del Potro struggled to overcome Verdasco and finally did, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6. Then, he once again rose to the occasion in his final match to defeat Federer—just as he did at the U.S. Open.
In three sets the lanky Argentine gave the Swiss his first loss, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3. Because he won one more game than Murray, Del Potro went through to the semis.
Roger Federer (1)
We are never quite sure how Federer will play these days, though, as the No. 1-ranked player in the world, he seems to land on his feet and maintain his edge, always doing just enough to stay ahead of the pack.
When the Swiss lost his opening set to Verdasco in his first match, we expected a long night. It was, but Federer prevailed and did the same against Murray—starting slow and finishing strong. Federer could not, however, come back against del Potro, losing his final match in three sets.
Still, the Swiss hung on just long enough to secure a place in the semis.
Winner Group A: Federer
Runner-up Group A: Del Potro
Rafael Nadal (2)
Nadal did not win a match—in fact, he did not win a set in his group. That must be the greatest surprise of the tournament.
Granted, Nadal has been injured most of the last half of 2009. It would be inappropriate to draw any grand conclusions from the Spaniard's poor showing in London.
Still, with Nadal’s fighting spirit and his never-say-die attitude, we would have expected at least a set or two along the way. He lost to Robin Soderling, Nikolay Davydenko, and finally to Novak Djokovic in straight sets. It must be said that he appeared to be a shadow of his former self on the bright blue courts in London.
Novak Djokovic (3)
Djokovic struggled in his opener but came back to defeat Davydenko, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. He was not so fortunate against Soderling, losing in straight sets to the red hot Swede, 7-6, 6-1.
It was as if the Serb threw in the towel after losing the tie break. As Djokovic was doing his Marlene Dietrich impression of being “so tired,” Soderling seemed to say, “all the better,” as he is now on his way to the semis.
Djokovic had to wait for the late match to determine his fate, after defeating Nadal in straight sets in the early match. Now he will have plenty of time to rest, because he was eliminated from contention with Davydenko’s win over Soderling.
Nikolay Davydenko (6)
The Russian started well, winning the first set in his opener with Djokovic, but he lost a fiercely contested three-set match to the Serb. Davydenko then defeated Nadal in straight sets, as did everyone in Group B.
The match of this tournament, to determine whether the Russian would advance into the semis, took place as Davydenko met Soderling in the last match of group play.
Davydenko won the opening set in a tense tie break, but Soderling came back to take the second set breaking Davydenko at love—then serving out the set to 6-4. The Russian returned the favor in the third set and Davydenko won the match, sending him into the semifinals.
Robin Soderling (8)
The hard-serving Swede made it into the championship tournament in the first place because Andy Roddick withdrew with an injury.
Soderling owes Roddick big time for this opportunity to play on a surface that showcases his many talents. He started things out by defeating Nadal in straight sets, then followed up that feat by defeating Djokovic in straight sets, as well.
In his final match, however, he could not surpass the wily Davydenko. Soderling lost his final group match, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3, to the Russian.
Winner Group B: Soderling
Runner Up Group B: Davydenko
Saturday’s Semifinals Matchups
Roger Federer vs. Nikolay Davydenko
Robin Soderling vs. Juan Martin del Potro
Federer has defeated Davydenko 12 times, never losing to the Russian. The last time they met was on clay in 2008, during the finals at Estoril. Davydenko retired due to injury. It would seem that Federer has the Russian’s number.
Del Potro has defeated Soderling the last two times they met—both times on hardcourts in 2009 at Auckland in New Zealand, 6-4, 6-3. He won again in Washington, D.C., with a walkover. They did meet once earlier in 2007 during Davis Cup play, Soderling taking a 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 victory on indoor carpet.
It has been a tremendous tournament to watch so far with doubles and singles play. The stands are filled and the play has been close and intense. It promises to be thrilling all the way to the finals.