October 22, 2009

The Fields Get Narrowed

The year-end championships for both the WTA and ATP are drawing near, and there are just a few spots left as players make their final sprints to the finish line.

Current world #2 Rafael Nadal was the first to qualify for the Barclays World Tour Finals way back in May, and after Andy Roddick secured his spot on Tuesday, there are now only two openings left for London.

Given his recent performances you have to think Nikolay Davydenko is a front-runner for the seventh entry. His win in Shanghai last week brought him to his highest ranking since March. His first round loss to compatriot Marat Safin in Moscow Wednesday must have been slightly deflating, but even still Nikolay is in a strong position.

The eighth man in might be harder to call, however. Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga holds that spot in the rankings, and winning his third title of the year in Tokyo certainly helps make his case, but he's a lowly number eleven in the ATP race. Ahead of him is New Haven titlist Fernando Verdasco, though he's not getting back into action until Valencia next month.

Fernando Gonzalez also has an outside chance of making the final eight. The most experienced of the possibilities, he qualified for the championships in 2007, but it seems like ages since he acheived his career-high ranking of #5 that year. Fernando has had a couple of big wins this year, though, putting up a hard fight in the Washington semis and repeating his championship performance in Chile. But he's got a little time too before his next tournament -- he'll next take the court in Basel.

Most likely, at least at this point, is Roland Garros finalist and Nadal vanquisher Robin Soderling, who's had his own spate of success during this fall's Asia tour. He's got an opportunity to rack up even more points this week in Stockholm, where he's already reached the quarterfinals. It would be Robin's first appearance at the year-end tourney, an acheivement that would, no doubt, be a highlight in an already banner year.

There's less time to wait before the women's championships -- round-robin action there starts on Tuesday! Dinara Safina, who spent the majority of the year as the #1 ladies' player, earned her berth in May -- lucky for her she did, as she's had a slew of disappointments since then. The last two spots were pretty closely decided.

Though Victoria Azarenka secured her first ticket to Doha earlier this month, she must have been biting her nails. After starting the year with her maiden title in Brisbane and scoring some serious wins over Dinara, Serena Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova on her way to capture two more, she kind of seemed to sputter. She didn't pass the third round of any tournament after Wimbledon and put together two straight losses to Maria Sharapova. But happily her early success was all she needed to put the cap on a very solid year.

Jelena Jankovic didn't find out she'd made the cut until earlier this morning when Vera Zvonareva didn't advance past the second round at the Kremlin Cup. Aggie Radwanska and Flavia Pennetta, who also lost earlier this week, gave up their chances with their opening match losses. Last year's #1, Jankovic, has had an up-and-down path in 2009. But a solid win in Cincinnati over the summer and a runner-up trophy in Tokyo put her back on a strong course going into Doha.

Notably missing from the action are two women who've made a quick climb back up the rankings -- but both Sharapova and U.S. Open champ Kim Clijsters were absent for too much of the year. (Anyone remember the last time a reigning Grand Slam winner didn't make the championships?) They currently stand at #14 and #16 in the race, respectively.

But there are a host of new faces in the mix this year, on both the men's and women's side, which should make for an exciting end to the year. And with just a few weeks left before it's all wrapped up, the stage is already being set for a fun 2010!

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