It’s meant to be the lean part of the ATP tour, the downhill run towards the season-ending World Tour Finals in London.
The Grand Slams have been and gone, the Asian swing has been short and sweet and the chill of northern climes seems to put a dampener on the late indoor tournaments. Stockholm, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Vienna and Basel are all beautiful cities, but are rarely bathed in warmth as autumn dovetails into winter.
This is often the season of injuries, too. Bodies are tired and, as the players succumb to the rigors of more hard court tennis, the strains and stresses start to show. Well, that’s the theory.
But this year, the first month in November in cool northern Europe is pulsing to the rhythm of almost every top-20 player on the tour.
Only Rafael Nadal—pacing himself for the WTFs from the safety of a 4,400 point margin at the top of the rankings—and an injured Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have failed to sign up for the 500 tournaments in Basel and Valencia.
The other 18 have spread their favors evenly between the modern Spanish venue and the medieval Swiss one.
Valencia, enjoying its second year since moving from the spring clay to the autumn hard courts, boasts defending champion Andy Murray and fellow top-eight players Robin Soderling, Fernando Verdasco and David Ferrer. The tournament lost world No.10 Mikhail Youzhny at the last moment with a back strain.
The Davidoff Swiss Indoors at Basel, the world’s third-largest indoor tournament, is celebrating its 40th anniversary and its second since promotion to 500 status. In starring roles are hometown boy Roger Federer and fellow top-10 players Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych and Andy Roddick. World Nos. 12 and 17, Jurgen Melzer and Ivan Ljubicic, have also withdrawn with illness.
There are as many motives as men for this extraordinary explosion of tennis. For several, it is the end of a campaign to reach the prestigious WTFs: indeed London is so close that three or four of them can almost taste it.
But with the window closing on the season, the contenders are, one by one, being shut out in the cold. If Valencia and Basel don’t deliver the points, there remains only the Paris Masters.
There are other stories unfolding, too: rivalries, ambitions for 2011, hopes for reclaimed rankings…all of them lighting up the November sky in an unexpectedly colorful display.