It’s that time of year again. It’s time for the Year-End Championship now being held in London. The tennis year is nearly over for the guys. All of the Grand Slams have been claimed, the Masters 1000 tournaments have been spoken for and the top eight guys are right now in London getting ready to battle for the final competition of the year.
Defending champion Nikolai Davydenko sadly won’t be in the mix as he failed to place in the top eight. Such is the cruelty of tennis—everything depends on repeating the same results the year before. What a difference a year can make in a player’s life!
Focusing on who is left standing at the end of the year, there are both familiar and surprising faces. Let’s look at the top eight and explore who might go deep in the tournament and who will be packing their bags before the end of the week.
Typically, the YEC has not been kind to Rafa. He lost in the semifinals in 2006 and 2007, both times to Roger Federer. In 2008, he qualified but was not able to make it due to injury. Last year he did not make it to the semifinals, losing all of his matches in the Round Robin. Is 2010 finally Rafa’s year?
His chances in 2010 are looking positive. His year has been positively Federer-esque in Grand Slam results. Rafa is the proud owner of three out of four slams this year and he has achieved the Career Grand Slam. He had the kind of year Roger Federer had in 2004, 2006 and 2007, when he won three out of four slams. Now that Rafa has the Golden Slam, the only thing left for him to achieve is just one time to hoist the YEC trophy.
Thankfully two of the three players who beat him in Round Robin play last year won’t be there: Juan Martin del Potro and Nikolai Davydenko. Rafa has also benefited from more closely pacing himself with his schedule so that he has enough left in the tank throughout the tennis season. We shall see how far Rafa can get in the tournament this year. Have the stars aligned for him? I see Rafa making a serious run for the final.
The YEC has had the familiar face of Roger Federer in the final across two of the three continents where the finals have been contested: Asia, the United States and the United Kingdom which has been the site for the past two years.
Federer has not yet had good luck in the current venue. He suffered from a bad back in 2008 and lost a thriller to Andy Murray in three sets. Then just last year, Davydenko became one of the few players to defeat both Roger and Rafa in the same tournament. Federer leads the pack with four YEC titles to his name.
He comes into the YEC as the hottest player on the tour with the best indoor record, a final, two titles and one semifinal. This, to date, has been the strongest finish Federer has ever had in the indoor season. Look for him to be hungry to finish the year on a high note the same way he began the year when he won the Australian Open.
Who would have thought that independent Roger would be travelling these days with not one coach, but two? It is going to be interesting to see what path Federer’s career will take in 2011. Look for Federer to claw his way into the final to have another shot at yet another YEC.
Djokovic impressed me this year. His accomplishments culminated in one match—the semifinal at the U.S. Open. Before that match, he had had an average year, making it to the quarterfinals of two slams for the year. But he managed to take Roger Federer out of the picture at the semifinal stage of yet another Grand Slam.
Sadly, even with a postponed U.S. Open Final and a rain delay, he could not do much with Rafa “I’m on a mission” Nadal, who was poised to win his first U.S. Open. Besides, the ramifications would have been huge; not too many people can take both Roger and Rafa out of the picture in a Grand Slam.
Djokovic has a good winning match record for the year going into the YEC with two titles won this year, but the year is not over for him after London. He has a big commitment staring him in the face: representing his country in Davis Cup against France.
I predict that Djokovic will be distracted going into the YEC. I see him winning maybe one match before going down.
Before Paris, Soderling was headed into the YEC as the No. 5 player. But after taking the Paris Masters he moved up to the No. 4 spot. Soderling has improved a lot this year and holds the remarkable distinction of being the player who ended Roger Federer’s 23 consecutive semifinals streak.
Sadly, after a second straight trip to the French Open final, Soderling did not have enough left to take the trophy from Rafa. But here it is again—the barometer for winning a Grand Slam in the Nadal/Federer era is to defeat both players.
It is not enough to only beat one, because if you make it past one, the other is sure to be waiting for you in the finals. Soderling will be on a high coming into the YEC and will play steady, mature tennis. Or could the opposite happen? He could have a letdown and not make it to the semis.
Can it get any harder than Andy Murray playing in London with the British press hounding him to produce results? Not just results—winning results. The year started out on a high note for Murray, who made it to the finals of his second Grand Slam. And yet again, waiting for him in the final was Roger Federer.
Then he went on to have a decent enough year, but experienced some strange losses in Grand Slams (i.e. Stanislas Wawrinka in the U.S. Open?). But he did avenge his loss to Federer earlier this year by beating him in two finals and picking up two Masters Shields.
In the two years the YEC have been located in London, Murray has made it to one semifinal and lost in the Round Robin last year. Is this the year he’s going to give the British press something to write about?
As I was writing this, I kept trying to remember the eight players who had made it and I kept forgetting about Berdych. If you’re a Berdych fan, about now you would be saying to yourself, “What a long strange trip it’s been!”
Berdych learned his lesson from letting Roger Federer off the hook in that match in 2009 at the Australian Open, where he was all over Federer for two sets and then faded away in the last three sets. He recorded two victories over Federer this year, famously taking Federer out at the quarterfinal stage of yet another Grand Slam. It was a big victory, ending Federer’s streak of consecutive appearances in the Wimbledon final.
Unfortunately, Berdych suffered the same letdown Soderling experienced at the French Open after taking out Federer, going down to Nadal in the final. He’s had a strange year filled with highs and lows and seems to be reverting back to his comfort zone of caving under pressure. I hope Berdych didn’t pack too much this trip.
We have two players from Spain in the elite eight. What I like about David Ferrer is he just goes right out there and gets the job done, with no drama. He has the distinction of making it to the YEC final in 2007 and finishing as a finalist to Roger Federer. This is a player who knows how to get the job done when it comes to winning matches and making it to the final. He just came up one match short of winning the whole enchilada.
He has a tough test in playing Roger Federer for his very first match but just like Rafa, David Ferrer will give whoever plays him a tough test. I don’t see him worrying Federer much as he’s never beaten Roger, but to the other players in his group I say watch out! David came to play. He won’t hand you the victory, you’ll have to beat him to get the win.
I going to show Roddick some love and compliment him on his achievement: He and Roger Federer are the only players of the eight this year who have, from 2002 to 2010, been ranked in the top 10 at the end of the year. That shows consistency from Andy at a high level. He has carved out a respectable career in the Federer/Nadal era and has shown remarkable staying power. He has a mixed bag of results at the YEC.
In his career at the YEC, Roddick has been to the semifinals three times, lost in the Round Robin twice and missed twice due to injury at the end of the year. Roddick is such a strong player so don’t look for him to be left on the sideline. The draw also favors him this year since he’s not in Roger Federer’s half.
There you have it, a breakdown of the top eight contenders for this year’s last trophy. Now gentleman, let’s play!