The ATP World Tour Finals have now answered some of the biggest questions of the tennis year. Let’s start with the easy ones.
Who would end the year as No. 1? Easy: Roger Federer.
Would the O2 arena be a fitting venue for the high spot of the men’s tour? Of course.
Had Rafael Nadal really lost weight? No doubt about it.
Would Andy Murray continue to be the "nearly man"? Afraid so.
But there were many other tricky questions that, for some extraordinary reason, seemed to pass the media by. Like who took the missing blue balls from the entrance hall?
So, to help out those aficionados for whom tennis is more than simply “who will win,” the following slides will try to shed some light on the “also-rans” of those end-of-year questions.
It would take a cold heart indeed not to warm to the small Russian dynamo that is Nikolay Davydenko. And surely London is not so cold-hearted?
Yet, no matter who he played, Davydenko attracted less support than his opponent. In every post-match interview, after each wonderful display of tennis, he was asked if he felt he had won over more fans in London. Every time he answered that he hoped so.
But at least twice, he apologized for beating the fans’ favorite: first Nadal in the Round Robin, then Federer in the semis.
His press conference, after winning the trophy, was revealing both of his modesty and also of his wistful desire for a little of the adulation accorded to Federer.
He pointed out that the attention is always on Federer or Nadal, not on him. He claimed that he had not been asked for a single autograph outside the O2 venue. “Everybody knows [Federer]. But, maybe now, after London, I also have a little bit, just a small part of famous here in London. I would like.”
Maybe it is a simple matter of clothing! Maybe he needs some tips from the man he admires so much. He could start by binning the unfashionably short, unflatteringly baggy shorts, and getting some slimmer, trimmer kit.
You may not yet have enough for that dream apartment in Moscow, Nikolay—“still expensive: I wait”—but Nike, I’m sure, could help you out with the clothes, now that you’re famous!
They are like an injection of adrenalin on the tennis court. They give doubles tennis a good name. They won the year end title in scintillating style.
But why, at the age of 31, do they still dress exactly the same—a trait usually more associated with eight-year-old female twins?
The obvious answer is that they want to confuse the opposition. However, it is possible to tell them apart while they are playing tennis because Bob plays left-handed. So, what is going on?
Perhaps it’s the very fact that one is a leftie and the other is not. In the speed of a doubles rally, the opposition loses track of which Bryan is where and cannot adjust to their strengths.
So, rather than the usual tennis mantra of “watch the ball,” the opposition finds they have to “watch the twin!”
Juan Martin is a big man. He is long not only in limb but also in body, and has the slightly shambling walk that many “long” men have.
He does not, though, have the thin and lanky build that many men of his tender years has. And he certainly looks older than men who have seven or more years over him.
This begs the question, why does he continue to wear clothes that hang off him as though they’re inherited from a big brother?
Perhaps he thinks they give the illusion that he is weaker than he is, lulling his opponent into a false sense of superiority. Perhaps, simply, he likes them. Perhaps, cometh the new season, cometh the new man.
Let’s hope so.
The World Tour Finals have been special not just for the spectacle provided by the finest singles players in the world but also because of the profile given to the best doubles players in the world.
It is rare, in tournaments of this scale, for doubles matches to get a look in. It is assumed that the audience has little interest. How refreshing, then, to see the men’s doubles getting equal billing and, what is more, decent audiences?
It is fast, quick-fire, powerful tennis that shows off every type of shot, and most especially the glories of volleying.
And, it is often the sort of tennis that the local club player recognizes. It is the tennis of the local park, of school classes, of the more elderly player. It has camaraderie, secret signals and whispered messages. And the shared celebrations are the most extrovert in tennis.
So three cheers to the WTF in London for featuring doubles alongside singles. And thank you, Bryan and Bryan, Mirnyi and Ram, for warming up the finals' Sunday crowd so well.
Now, for one of the really serious questions of the week. Which player sports the most endearing dimples?
Davydenko may well be top of the list after his beaming win over Del Potro. Never has a crowd seen such a broad smile on the Russian’s face, and his dimples twinkled.
But, the prize is going to an even more reluctant smiler. He is grumpy and dark-humored on court. He buries his head in a towel between games. He can be off-hand with players, officials, and fans.
But even as Robin Soderling began to talk, the dimples appeared, and when he smiled, they deepened into a pair of deep crescents.
Add in a dose of dry humor, and a very Scandinavian mastery of English, and he quickly found many new supporters in the home crowd.
Talking of Soderling, he nearly lost all that support with one gesture to a particular ball girl during his match against Davydenko.
The young teenagers from local schools scurried about, retrieving balls from all directions, rushing to get the maximum number down to the server’s end. This wasn’t enough for the Swede, who wanted to take his balls from one corner, not the other, and waited impatiently while an embarrassed girl sought the required balls from her colleagues.
It was a tetchy moment, and drew some grumbles from the crowd. Suffice to say, Soderling did not do it again.
This illustrates the difficulty of anticipating the individual whims of each player, while juggling towels tossed in their general direction, and receiving balls from all parts of the court.
It also illustrates the sympathy the crowd feels for every single one of them.
As a result, it is easy to become fixated on how each player interacts with the girls, the small gestures of thanks, and the considerate hitting of balls by some players from one end of the court to the waiting hands at the opposite end.
So, the prize for the most considerate player goes to Fernando Verdasco who, when serving, always, but always, carefully hits his surplus ball to the nearest ball girl.
Nike makes sure that their stars stand out in the crowd. With both Federer and Nadal on their books, they have an easy job. One models understated chic, the other favors a more vibrant chic. It’s crisp navy blue and white versus glimmering lime green and white. Shoes and bandanas, of course, are coordinated to perfection. But not for them, on this occasion, the accolade of stand-out clothes horse.
From the moment Novak Djokovic stepped onto the court, all eyes were drawn to the brilliant scarlet not of his shirt, but of his shoes. If the electric blue shoes of his spring season caused some raised eyebrows, his poppy-red shoes, resplendent with gold trim, brought a smile to the face.
The bravado to carry off such a bold statement has to be applauded. And to think he is dropping Adidas at the end of the season: madness!
While Djokovic had the best strip of the week, it was another Adidas shirt that won the prize for the worst.
Verdasco has the Mediterranean coloring to handle vivid golden yellow, and all seemed well until he turned to reveal the back. There were the fine, broad shoulders of Verdasco daubed in a swirling pattern of black blobs.
Perhaps he dropped his shirt in the path of a passing tractor. On balance, it seems more likely that a doodle in the designer’s sketch book was accidentally substituted for the real design at the last minute.
Had the rest of the outfit been black rather than white, it might still have been redeemed. Alas, it wasn’t.
At least Verdasco can look forward to better kit when he returns to the Davis Cup squad this week!
Do you really need to ask?