The World Tour Finals in London brought the climax to the tennis season that most fans dreamed of. And as a result, there will be only one story in the tennis headlines for the rest of 2010.
With apologies to the Serbian and French men now summoning up their final reserves of energy for the Davis Cup final, it looks set to be the Roger-and-Rafa show from now until the next Grand Slam in Australia.
One or other of them has topped the tennis rankings for the last seven years and, despite the occasional flurry of excitement as Novak Djokovic overtook a Federer finding his way back from illness in early summer and the musical chairs between Djokovic, Andy Murray and Robin Soderling in the closing months of the year, Roger and Rafa have opened clear water of more than 3,000 points between themselves and the following three.
Nadal—riding high on his best ever season—can now begin to see the super-Swiss in his rear-view mirror, despite remaining over 3,000 clear. Only right, then, that they should fight it out at the bitter end in a bitter London.
But below them, only 455 points separate Nos. 3, 4 and 5, and barely a 1,000 separates the rest of the top 10. These bare statistics, though, cannot disguise the drama that has surrounded the top two protagonists in the last 12 months.
Just a year ago, Nadal had the worst possible end to 2009 with three Round Robin losses at the World Tour Finals. Last week in London, he won all three, then a pulsating semi against Murray and went the distance in a show-stopping final against Federer. In the interim, Nadal had won the “Clay Slam,” three out of four Grand Slams, claimed a “career Slam” and opened up a mammoth lead of 4,500 points in the rankings.
Meanwhile, Federer’s year slid from the heights of Grand Slam victory in Melbourne, via a lung infection in the spring, to early exits in three Masters on the bounce to players who had never beaten him before—squandering match points along the way.
He then brought an abrupt end to his record of 23 consecutive Grand Slam semis at Roland Garros. And his fall in the quarterfinals of Wimbledon was the first time he failed to reach the final since 2002.
In July, Federer dropped to No. 3 for the first time since November 2003. Within a month, though, he was back to No. 2 and on the up escalator, finishing the year with a glut of titles and points.
So the Roger-and-Rafa drama was destined to go all the way to the 2010 finishing line, as these two charismatic and charming champions first shared the major ATP end-of-year trophies and then fought for the WTF title in their 22nd match, their 18th final, but only their fourth contest in almost two years.
It was the match between the winners of 21 of the last 23 Grand Slams tournaments. And while the head-to-head odds were in the Spaniard’s favour—14-7—the Swiss had won both their previous indoor encounters, both of them at the year-end tournament.
It turned out to be a nail-biter that swung first Federer’s way, then Nadal’s, then back to the Swiss playing some of his finest tennis of the year. The win has determined the final placing of the 2010 Power Rankings and provides the perfect launch pad to the 2011 season for one of the greatest sporting rivalries of our age.
This final appraisal of the year also provides an opportunity for a review of the high-spots of the crème-de-la-crème: the eight World Tour Finalists.