World Tour Finals: How Important Is It and Is Rafael Nadal Missing Out?
Mention of the WTF to all but the most ardent tennis followers will likely produce blank stares. This indoor event comes at the end of a long, gruelling season and is seen by many tennis fans almost as an imposition. How can yet another tournament be added after the four Grand Slams, and the important events that lead up to them?
The casual follower simply doesn't know of its existence.
Roger Federer, the winner of this event last month, will likely take a lot from this victory as he prepares to defend his Australian Open crown in January. But have his vanquished opponents really been affected by their exits?
Novak Djokovic, who already has one of these titles under his belt, went on to win the Davis Cup two weeks later with his fellow teammates, the first in his nation's history. He rated it as the most significant victory of his career, placing it higher than his Australian Open title of 2008. I predict big things for Djokovic in 2011.
Andy Murray is mainly focused on winning that elusive first Grand Slam and will have much bigger fish to fry as the new season looms. I feel the time for this hardworking, multi-talented young man is near.
He has two successive wins over Federer this season at the Masters level, producing some of the best tennis of his career at both events. This is what Murray will take with him into 2011, and not that dismal showing against the Swiss in London.
And Rafael Nadal? Well, he is on the verge of making history at the Australian Open, as he seeks to become the first title holder of all four Grand Slams since the great Rod Laver.
After such a stellar season, winning the last three Slams of the year on three different surfaces and becoming the first ever to win six times in a row at the same event (at the prestigious Monte-Carlo Masters), Nadal must have turned his focus to Melbourne after winning the U.S. Open.
The Spaniard's latest major triumph was achieved on his least comfortable surface, and this surely would have set his mind in motion, calculating his chances in Australia on the slower, higher-bouncing court of the Rod Laver arena—of equaling a long standing record achieved by a remarkable sportsman and athlete.
How much weight does the WTF really carry? The glitz and glamor, the loud music and mega advertising are certainly present, but all this does is cheapen the event, lending it an almost exhibition-like quality. "Let's see what these top guys can still do after eleven months of competition," an advertising executive or promoter might be heard declaring.
The lack of a five set final, like the format of the singles Gold Medal round at the Olympics, also reduces its importance. This was how the finals at the end-of-year championships used to be decided, but since 2008 it has been reduced to a best-of-three format, possibly so the advertisers can cash in as quickly as possible!
Again, this shows that quantity (money, advertising) overrides quality at this draining November event—yes, draining for the fans too, who have already been witness to more than enough tennis during the course of the season.
The many different names, titles and facelifts that this event has undergone also lessen its credibility. It has been called "The Masters Grand Prix", the "ATP Tour World Championship", the "Tennis Masters Cup" and now the name with the unappealing initials: "WTF." It has an identity crisis indeed!
Fans of this event will recall the great Ivan Lendl, who won it multiple times and reached a record nine finals. But I'm willing to bet my home that he would have traded all those titles for one Wimbledon trophy.
If this tournament is to be placed anywhere near the vicinity of the Slams, it needs to stick to one permanent title for the event. It needs to exist earlier during the season, when players are still on top of their game, physically and mentally. And it needs a best-of-five final like at the Olympics.
At the moment, I would place it behind such Masters events as Miami, Indian Wells and Monte-Carlo, regardless of the higher ranking points and prize money it has.
Those tournaments have an established, prestigious history, are in the bulk of the season in between Slams when players are still fresh and are more demanding to win, with players having to play on consecutive days against unpredictable opponents.
If an earlier schedule for the WTF means getting rid of some of the smaller, backwoods ATP events, then so be it.
I have heard it mentioned that this court should cycle through the four different surfaces to cater to the different styles on the tour. I feel it should remain as an indoor event since all the Slams are played outdoors, and a player wanting to be regarded as an all time great should not "specialize" on any surface.
Nadal is the epitome of the specialist who worked hard to conquer everything. He is now regarded as the complete player par excellence, and a future win at the WTF will certainly add some more weight to his already burgeoning CV.
Just like he conquered New York when many thought he couldn't, so can he conquer this indoor title, and I believe he will.
However, should he never emerge victorious in London, or wherever this title may end up in the future, it would be but a mere blip on his resume at the end of his career.
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