November 18, 2010

Eight Men Standing

At this point in time, there are eight men still in contention for the year-end championship. Most have been here before, some are making a return, and one is stepping into unchartered territory.

But in just over a week there will be only one left holding the trophy, and he'll have fought through a barrage of power in order to claim it. Only two of the men in London have won the title before, and last year's champion, Nikolay Davydenko, won't be back to defend, so things really could get interesting. Of course there are clear favorites, but if we've learned anything this year, it's that no one is safe.

So let's see how it may all shake out.

Andy Roddick
2010 titles: 2
Championships played: 5
Championships record: 8-8
Win % against Round Robin opponents: 60.9%

Roddick has qualified for the year-end tournament for the eighth straight year and has made the semis here three times. But as the last man to book his ticket to London, the lone American in the field may have a stuggle ahead of him. The most successful part of his year came in the winter when he won two titles and made another two finals, but he's only made a handful of semis since then.

But all is not lost -- grouped with world #1 Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Tomas Berdych for the round robins, he stands a solid chance in the early rounds. Roddick has a combined 14-9 history against those opponents -- one of the best percentages among the eight -- and a winning record against all but Nadal. Still, early losses in this year's Majors and a couple of nagging injuries keep the question marks beside his name. At this point, I'm just hoping for a solid showing -- that he holds down the fort until the next generation of U.S. athletes is ready to make their mark.

David Ferrer
2010 titles: 2
Championships played: 1
Championships record: 4-1
Win % against Round Robin opponents: 26.9%

Ferrer is making a return to the championships, qualifying for the first time since making the title match in 2007, and he really put in quite a valiant effort this year. Trophies in Acapulco and Valencia coupled with three more second place finishes helped him chop his ranking to #7, his best in over two years. He's also notched wins over players like Fernando Verdasco, Andy Murray and Robin Soderling along the way.

Of course his best surface continues to be the clay and he might have a tougher time on London's hardcourts. He'll be pitted against Murray, Soderling and Roger Federer in his early rounds and, recent wins notwithstanding, he still holds a 7-19 record against them. He's also lost all ten of the matches he's played against Roger -- the only pairing in the field where the challenger has never beaten his rival. Ferrer's record against potential Group A opponents is better -- he's won a respectable 43% of those matches -- but he's going to have to get there first.

Tomas Berdych
2010 titles: None
Championships played: Zero
Championships record: N/A
Win % against Round Robin opponents: 26.1%

Making his ATP Championships debut, Wimbledon finalist Berdych could very well be overwhelmed by his settings. He's the only competitor who hasn't won a title this year. His 6-17 career mark against his Group-mates is the lowest of the contenders, and his record against the entire field is only slightly better.

The Czech superstar may also be suffering a bit of a hangover after his solid spring. Though he sits at his highest career ranking, he's also been slowing down a bit, winning just a handful of matches in the second half of the year. He's been upset by the likes of Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Michael Berrer and world #72 Tobias Kamke, all in early round matches. I'm sure he'll do his best to turn momentum back in his direction, but I fear his virgin experience in London might be just that -- an experience.

Andy Murray
2010 titles: 2
Championships played: 2
Championships record: 5-2
Win % against Round Robin opponents: 52.4%

This is where we start to get serious. A semifinalist in 2008, Murray is making his third appearance in London and is the hometown favorite. Though he crashed out of the Australian Open final in January, he's won two Masters titles in the last four months, beating Federer for both those crowns.

Murray has a solid record against his round robin group, oddly only having a losing head-to-head against Ferrer -- his three losses, though, all came on clay. And with Robin Soderling, the man who just usurped his #4 ranking, among his early matches, I expect him to display fireworks from the start. Given his more stacked bracket, getting back to the semis will be hard, but it should definitely be exciting.

Robin Soderling
2010 titles: 2
Championships played: 1
Championships record: 2-2
Win % against Round Robin opponents: 35.5%

The man who just overtook Murray to climb into the top four for the first time in his career has made it to the Tour finals for the second straight year. Soderling began the year with a title in Rotterdam and ended it with his maiden Masters in Paris. He repeated as runner-up at the French Open and racked up five solid wins over top ten players over the year.

Soderling has a decent history against his opponents in London, with overall losing records only against the players ranked higher than him. But, a point in his favor, he defeated both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic en route to the semis here last year, and he's only now playing at the top of his game. Ranked higher than Murray, the Swede is the on-paper favorite to make the final four, an he could really make this group one to watch.

Novak Djokovic
2010 titles: 2
Championships played: 3
Championships record: 6-5
Win % against Round Robin opponents: 36.4%

U.S. Open runner-up Djokovic won the championships back in 2008, but failed to make it out of the round robins last year. He's looking renewed in 2010, following up his New York run with a title in Beijing and a semi in Basel. Ranked #2 for several weeks during the year, he's a legitimate force at the championships -- after all, he's done it before.

Unfortunately for Nole, he has a pretty dismal record against his early round opponents. Roddick and Rafa have both beaten him twice as often as they've lost and he only leads Berdych 3-1. He's fifty-fifty against the Group B men, but like Ferrer, he'll have a hell of a fight to get there. That said, the Djok-er is playing in top form again, and we've watched him beat all of these guys more than once. Making a statement here would sure get people talking about him come Australia.

Roger Federer
2010 titles: 4
Championships played: 8
Championships record: 29-7
Win % against Round Robin opponents: 76.3%

Federer is the only other man in the field who has won the year-end championship, and boy has he won it! The four-time titleist has amassed a more-than-intimidating record at this tournament, and has made three runs to the trophy without dropping a match. By far the most experienced champion of this bunch, he's only been stopped in the round robins once in eight appearances.

But Roger arguably is in the tougher Group this year -- Soderling has put up a fight against him more than a few times and Murray even has a winning record against the King. He's also seen defeat at the hand of some new foes in recent months -- Berdych in Miami, Marcos Baghdatis in Indian Wells, Gael Monfils in Paris. Still, three years having passed since his last year-end trophy, he's going to be hungry to reclaim the crown.

Rafael Nadal
2010 titles: 7
Championships played: 3
Championships record: 4-7
Win % against Round Robin opponents: 68.3%

Of the many titles Rafael Nadal has won, he's never seen the most success at the Tour finals. Having gone 0-3 last year, he hasn't even had a winning record in any of his three appearances. Of course, 2010 has been a breakout year of sorts for him -- he clawed back to the #1 ranking, he reclaimed championships at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, he won the career Grand Slam, all after various injuries caused many to write him off completely. And in the sixteen events he's played this year, he's only failed to make the quarterfinals once.

He has a solid record against his fellow contenders in London, winning more than 69% of his matches against the rest of the field. And that stat comes in a long history against these opponents -- he's played the other seven guys a staggering ninety-five times during his career, second only to Federer, who's been pro three years longer. Of course, Rafa could fall victim to the London hardcourts -- though he's improved his win percentage on the surface this year, all of his losses to his Group-mates have come on the concrete, and only against Berdych is he even on the surface. Now we've learned you can never count out Rafa, but if anyone has a chance against him, this is it.

Each of these guys have different prospects in London, and different goals -- for some this is one last shot for glory, while for others their careers are really just getting started. Some will undoubtedly be heavy favorites, while others will have to struggle a bit from the start.

But whatever the circumstances, all these guys have certainly earned the right to fight for the trophy this year. And whoever is left standing at the end will clearly deserve his reward.

1 comment:

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