After 10 months of competition, the ATP season has come to its final stop. Players compete all year to qualify for the World Tour Finals, the round robin event for the top eight players. In truth, the Race to London was mostly a foregone conclusion by the middle of the year, as the game’s younger generations not only stagnated, but regressed. Milos Raonic went from a 2014 WTF participant to out of the top 10 as he dealt with injuries, and after being hyped for years, Grigor Dimitrov followed his breakout season by plummeting out of the top 25, struggling under pressure due to lack of clarity and confidence.
As a result, the 2015 field features no first-time participants and just one player (Kei Nishikori) under the age of 28. Novak Djokovic has won the last three years, receiving the first walkover in the history of the event’s final in 2014, as Roger Federer’s ailing back forced him to withdraw. Federer, as always, qualified again, and is seeking to make it out of the group stage for the 13th time in 14 years. Also back is Rafael Nadal, whose runner-up finish in 2013 was sandwiched by DNPs due to his 2012 knee problems and appendicitis last year. David Ferrer is the only other contender to have a previously made the final, having lost to Federer back in 2007.
The top two players in each group advance to the semifinals (record in sets serves as the first tiebreaker), with Group A’s winner facing Group B’s runner-up in the semifinals, and vice versa.
Group Stan Smith Predictions:
Novak Djokovic 3-0 (def. Federer in 3, def. Berdych in 2, def. Nishikori in 2)
Roger Federer 2-1 (def. Berdych in 3, def. Nishikori in 2)
Tomas Berdych 1-2 (def. Nishikori in 3)
Kei Nishikori 0-3
This is the more straight-forward group, as Djokovic’s dominance speaks for itself, Berdych hasn’t beaten Djokovic or Federer in two and a half years (combined 8-34 lifetime against them), and Nishikori comes in dealing with injuries, not to mention his 2015 was fairly disappointing. Despite Federer falling early at both of the recent Masters 1000 tournaments, something would have to go very wrong for him to not go at least 2-1.
Group Ilie Nastase Predictions:
Rafael Nadal 2-1 (def. Murray in 3, def. Wawrinka in 2)
Stan Wawrinka 2-1 (def. Murray in 3, def. Ferrer in 2)
Andy Murray 1-2 (def. Ferrer in 2)
David Ferrer 1-2 (def. Nadal in 3)
Murray has been practicing on clay in preparation for next week’s Davis Cup final against Belgium, so although he’s talked up his chances at the O2, it won’t be a surprise if he fails to make it out of the group. Ferrer winning a match would be a bit of an upset (his lone top 10 win since February came against Marin Cilic back in May), but anyone going 3-0 from this quartet is less likely, so that’s the logic behind his predicted win over Nadal. As usual, Wawrinka is the X-factor. After getting blown off the court back in Shanghai against Nadal, he showed a heavy dose of mental toughness in eliminating the Spaniard in Paris. His form in London is anyone’s guess.
An added subplot is Nadal trying to fend off Berdych for the final spot in the top five. Nadal is going for his 11th straight top-five season, something only Jimmy Connors has accomplished, while Berdych, after finishing sixth or seventh each year this decade, is going for his first. Berdych only trails by a mere 10 points, but that’s enough to require an extra win, a tough ask given the caliber of competition. Barring an 0-3 disaster from Nadal, Berdych needs to notch a rare victory over Djokovic or Federer to have a chance.
Djokovic def. Wawrinka in 3
Nadal def. Federer in 3
A weary Wawrinka managed a set off Djokovic in Paris, so he should be able to equal that feat in London. As for the other semi, Federer was narrowly the better player a few weeks ago in the final of Basel, his home tournament on a fast surface suited to his game. A more rested Nadal on a slower court figures to flip the result this time around.
Djokovic def. Nadal in 3
Nadal is just about back to contending form after a turbulent 2015, but asking him to dethrone Djokovic at this event in the last match of the year (no need to conserve for the next event) seems a bit much. A competitive final would be the cherry on top for Djokovic’s all-time-great 2015 campaign, while serving to set the stage for an extremely compelling 2016.