Being here is something: Winning here is everything.
It was the mantra of the tournament, repeated before each match.
And at the biggest indoor tournament in tennis, it helped capture the imagination of the players, the British public and audiences around the world.
With 10 of the 15 sessions a sell-out—that’s 17,500 seats each afternoon and evening, and never fewer than 14,000 for any session—the event attracted more than a quarter of a million spectators for the third straight year. It also drew record audiences on TV and online: 95 million viewers in 184 countries, a 60 percent increase on 2010.
The ATP’s website and live scoring had 9 million visits during the week, and another new feature also proved popular: The WTF app recorded more than 40,000 downloads.
But such stats barely scratch the surface of what makes the tournament so vibrant.
Here are photos, quotes and moments gathered from this year’s World Tour Finals by the author.
For more on the performances of the key players at the World Tour Finals, check the new end-of-year Power Rankings.
There is the music and the slow-mo replay, there are the flags and banners, there’s cheering and the pin-dropping silence, bullet-loud forehands and hushed slice, the semaphore rhythm of squeaking shoe on rubber and the darting ball kids, smart as paint and quicksilver fast.
The players love it all—but also the behind-the-scenes care and consideration shown at every turn.
Roger Federer: “It’s electrifying, it’s entertainment…I feel like it’s an arena where you’ll be proud one day to have played.”
Mardy Fish: “They love tennis here. I love playing in this country because they know so much about tennis. They’re very respectful.”
David Ferrer: “I think this tournament is very, very special…I like a lot to play in London.”
Janko Tipsarevic: “The tournament is, in my opinion, perfect. Everything from start to finish is unbelievable because the people are really caring for the players. I love the British crowd…If the referee says, Quiet, I can hear the other guy breathe on the other side of the net. They love this sport, but they respect the values and they respect the players.”
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: “The organisation is perfect, the court is perfect, the crowd is perfect, everything is perfect.”
The Frenchman Tsonga, owner of one of the most natural and winning smiles in the tournament, ended the week with almost as much support as the defending champion he faced in the final, Federer. Not bad for a man who finished his first press conference with the self-deprecating, “Everybody was for Roger, but that’s okay.”
He concluded his time in London with a confident appraisal and an optimistic outlook.
“My biggest achievement was maybe because I was more consistent in my head…But I lost a bit physically, so I need to improve again. I have to work hard [for] my body to be quicker on the court, to move better. Maybe if I move better next year, I will have some better results.”
About his opponent, though, he was generous at the start and generous at the end: “It’s always difficult because he’s really quick and sometimes you think you will get the point and Roger is there…He’s the best player indoors for the moment because he’s maybe the best player ever.”
More from Tsonga:
On being coachless: “Why you ask me about coach? Tomorrow I have to play a final against Roger. Come on [smiling]…I think I’m fine for the moment.”
But he added,
“Without a coach, you have more responsibility. You have to be really professional.”
On his support in London: “I come to the net—I know you like it here!”
The hustling, bustling terrier that is Spaniard Ferrer faced his nemesis, Federer, in the semifinals—a pleasure he had hoped to avoid by beating Tomas Berdych in his last round robin match. It was not to be.
He might have hoped that Federer was getting weary, as the rest of the big four were. But the Swiss has made great play all week of feeling fine after pacing his season with care.
There was more. Federer not only held an 11-0 lead over his fellow elder statesman but he had lost only three sets, two of them on clay. And it was Federer who beat Ferrer to the title when the Spaniard last made the final back in 2007 in Shanghai.
It all begged the question, what was going through Ferrer’s mind as he quickly warmed up alongside centre court 12 short hours after he left it? For he was confronted by a Federer just finishing off a 20-minute warm-up that, even as he cranked up a few final baseline returns, looked relaxed to the point of horizontal.
More from Ferrer
On his shrug of the shoulders after beating Djokovic: “The gesture was for a surprise. I won against No. 1 of the world, won against Novak Djokovic in two sets.”
On not getting as much attention as the top four: “I think is normal… they are more important than the other players because they won everything.”
On not looking tired: “But I am tired. I am tired, sure. I’m very tired…I want to stop but I can’t because I have the Davis Cup. But I’m really tired.”
Federer and Ferrer following one another on court to practise just hours before their semifinal match made for a fascinating juxtaposition.
Both in red—perhaps in homage to their native flags—they are separated by just eight months in age but by 58 titles in the record books and are as night and day in their playing styles.
Federer has the languid bearing of a man who sees the ball as his partner in crime. It comes to his racket at his bidding and he despatches it with relaxed shoulders and unhurried feet.
Ferrer treats the ball as an enemy to be beaten off with urgency: His shoulders hunch towards it, his feet hustle and bustle.
That urgency, though, looked as though it would pay big dividends when the two men shared the centre court for the second time in a day. It elicited numerous errors from the Federer racket before the first set finally went to the Swiss.
Federer then broke in the first game of the second set to take an advantage that he never lost.
More from Federer
About Thierry Henry’s view of his performance so far: “I think he was happy: Well he wasn’t crying when I came into the locker room!”
On the length of the season: “Many matches in my career I’ve played hurt as well, but was able to somehow find a way to at least compete or sometimes even to win.”
On the audience involvement: “They were really excited and ready to see this match [against Nadal] tonight. It definitely got me fired up. I’m sure it made me play better.”
On earlier suggestions of a boycott: “It’s nonsense…There’s absolutely no reason for it.”
After reaching his 100th final: “One thing I can tell you—I won’t retire after 100.”
On beating Nadal: “At least I got one surface that goes my way!”
Fish, surely one of the nicest guys in tennis, could not stop telling everyone how happy he was just to be at his first World Tour Finals:
“I was just excited to get out there and be a part of this whole thing…It’s a spectacular event all the way through…just how they treat everyone.”
It’s been a long time coming—he turns 30 next week—but he has never played better tennis, never broken the top 10 before and, it transpired, never spent Thanksgiving away from home before but there was a positive side to that too.
“I live in LA, my family still lives in Florida, so I don’t get to spend many holidays with them. They’re actually here, so I can cherish that as well.”
In his opener, and coming to London with two withdrawals from matches due to hamstring injury, he lost to Nadal in a final set tie-breaker.
In the second, he lost a first set tie-breaker to Tsonga and in the third he also took a set off Federer, despite already being out of the tournament.
He was asked what he would take with him from the event:
“I had a great experience just being part of this…I was honoured to just be a part of it.”
But he added: “I’ve taken 10 towels…we’ve taken a lot of pictures. We’ve taken the shower door, the mirror…No [smiling], I’ve taken a lot of towels!”
More from Fish
On his pride at being part of the final eight: “I know there’s a chance I won’t ever come back to this event so I wanted to take it all in.”
Nadal did not have the happiest of times in London this year.
Even before his opening match against Fish began, he summoned the trainer to rebandage his always-bound fingers, holding up proceedings for even longer usual.
And, as many predicted, both Nadal and Fish looked match-rusty and edgy from the off. Since they had met one another in the semifinals of Tokyo back at the start of October, both had encountered fitness problems and neither was competition sharp.
So in a see-saw match riddled with errors, they shared the first two sets. Nadal got an early break in the third, only to rush from the court for ten minutes, leaving Fish, arms akimbo, looking more than a little irritated.
It became clear later that Nadal was sick and in urgent need of a "bathroom break" and Fish quickly thwarted any suggestion of being upset by the interlude:
“I just assumed he wasn’t feeling well…I have a ton of respect for him. Willing to wait. He wins more Grand Slams than I’ve won tournaments so I’m willing to wait for him as long as he wants.”
But by now, the clock ticking towards 11.30pm, the last train was about to leave and many were forced to miss the denouement.
Nadal went on to win the final-set tie-break but must have asked himself whether such a performance would beat his next opponent, Federer.
It was a question answered in double-quick time—an hour to be precise—two days later, when Federer turned on the form to allow Nadal just three games in the match.
Nadal’s reaction? “I accept he played a fantastic level. A very, very top level. Something very special only one player like Roger can arrive to. So accept that and keep fighting.”
More from Nadal
On taking an urgent "comfort break": “I say to [the umpire] I need to go to the toilet, can I go the next changeover? He told me I had to go before my serve. I said, going to be crazy if I go at 2-0, but he told me that’s better!”
On playing Halle instead of Queens next year: “I am free to play where I want…is important to come back to Germany [after four years]. There is more tournaments on the tour even if Queens is one of the best.”
Tipsarevic, in a cruel taste of irony, found himself unexpectedly playing his friend and hitting partner Djokovic for real rather than in practice as had been the case for several days in London.
With Andy Murray pulling out, the No. 2 Serb was added to Group A for two matches, and he proved to a more than worthy alternate.
“I think I practised with Novak probably one million times. I know his game inside out as well as he knows my game inside out.”
By the time he played his friend, he had nothing to lose—by falling to Berdych in a long three-setter, Tipsarevic was out of contention, but for Djokovic it was a vital match, one he had to win to stay in the competition.
Most expected Djokovic would overcome the fatigue that shouted from every pore of his body, despite playing what he described, after losing to Ferrer, as “the worst match I’ve played this season…just a terrible, terrible match.” He had never lost to Tipsarevic before, but this would become the first time.
Tipsarevic, possibly the most erudite and thoughtful ‘victim’ in the week’s press conferences, sought credit where credit was due:
“I’m giving credit to me because I managed to beat the world No. 1—maybe not at his best today but still I feel that’s a victory that no-one can take away from me.”
More from Tipsarevic
On losing match point and then match against Berdych: “I am p****d at myself for making a double fault at 6-6. Then, for no particular reason, I stepped two metres back and let him get into the match.”
Murray delivered a bolt from the blue after his very first match against Ferrer:
“I’ll decide tomorrow whether or not I keep playing…I’ve been carrying [the injury] since a few days after Paris…If it wasn’t a Slam or this event I wouldn’t have played.”
He delayed the decision pending a scheduled practice at the O2 on the third day of the tournament, but when he did not appear, most expected the worst.
Sure enough, the announcement came in a hastily-called press conference. After extensive discussions with his team—almost two hours, he said—Murray made the reluctant decision to pull out of the event with a groin injury.
“I was going to hit at 1, we chatted about what I should do…Had some food, spoke more about it. I was just trying to find reasons why I should try and play.
“Yesterday, I was really unhappy on the court. I wasn’t enjoying it at all…I couldn’t give anywhere near my best. So that’s what was disappointing.”
More from Murray
After announcing his withdrawal: “Roger and Rafa and Novak have all taken long breaks—maybe I shouldn’t have played Basel. That’s something I’ve learned.”
There was precious little celebration when Djokovic squeaked past his big-hitting first opponent, Berdych, after facing match point in the final-set tie-breaker.
With twice as many errors as winners, he was quick to acknowledge that he was simply happy to survive the test: “I wasn’t very satisfied with my performance…I know I wasn’t playing on top of my game…but look, a win is a win in the end.”
At least he was confident in his shoulder: “To be honest, it feels good. That’s something that I’m happy about, my condition. I haven’t felt any pain in my shoulder.”
But by the time he had lost to Ferrer, 63, 61, his mood had dropped:
“I just wasn’t there. It was the worst match I’ve played this season so far…I’m not playing well, that’s a fact…This match, I have no words to explain.”
Few, though, could blame Ferrer for enjoying the win in his uniquely modest style: “It was a surprise, no? I am in the semifinal. I won Andy Murray and Djokovic and nothing else, no? I want to enjoy this moment.”
Even before Djokovic played Tipsarevic, he looked a shadow of his Grand Slam-winning self during practise: lack-lustre, tired and unenthused. And after losing the second set to his fellow Serb, the writing was on the wall. The Tipsarevic win meant both men left the tournament together.
More from Djokovic
On what was missing that he had at the start of the year: “Freshness.”
On whether playing Davis Cup in September ruined his season: “Nothing can ruin the season…even if I didn’t play anything after the U.S. Open, my season would still be incredible.”
It was probably the most unnecessary question of the day, so faced with "How are you feeling after having match point...?", Berdych gave a withering look from under drooping shoulders:
"Well I mean, I was expecting this question. But how can you ask that? How can I feel after a match lite that? I'm feeling very disappointed, and that's it."
Against his second opponent, Tisparevic, the Czech this time saved a match point in the final-set tie-breaker. Asked afterwards if he felt underestimated as a player: "Tough to say. I don't know who's gonna be judging that or saying that."
Finally, he beat Ferrer from a set down to steal the top spot in his pool.
His semifinal against Tsonga had all the makings of a blockbuster but Berdych afterwards explained that, although he had started with day with a fever, it was his choice to play: "It's not my excuse. I had a chance, an option, to on court or not. I decide to go. That was tough."
He was a man of some determination but few words—though there were occasional flashes of wit. One loud-speaker suddenly blared announced the imminent departure of a hotel bus during his press conference. Quick as a flash, he made to stand up, with: "That's OK, I'm ready to go now, too!"