November 21, 2011

Not Exactly What You'd Expect

The first set of round robin matches is in the books at this year's World Tour Finals in London, and though we are far from deciding who will take home the prize in the end, the surprises -- and the surprising battles -- we've seen so far make choosing the champion this early a largely futile task.

In a rematch of last week's final in Paris -- and a couple other matches this year -- Roger Federer took on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the first singles match of the week. He got off to a quick start, taking the first set while only dropping three points on serve, but the Frenchman wholly reversed the score in the second, losing just two points himself. They kept things close in the decider, holding serve for the first nine games before Tsonga fell to 0-40 in the tenth. Federer failed to convert his first match point, but he was ultimately too much for the sixth seed. After just under ninety minutes, albeit through a bit of a scare, Federer had extended his win streak to thirteen consecutive matches since the U.S. Open and gave himself a further leg up on his competitors.

Rafael Nadal had a slightly tougher time of it on Sunday. Last year's runner-up took on first-time finalist Mardy Fish, and broke the American in the first game of the match. But, like Tsonga before him, Fish got the lead in the second and though he failed to convert break chances on Rafa's serve, he was eventually able to serve out the set and force a third. That's when things got exciting, though -- Nadal broke again early, but Fish pulled back even; Fish got his own lead, but failed to consolidate. After almost three hours of play, the two were pushed to a tiebreak, where the former #1 took control. In a match that ended near midnight, Nadal was the ultimate winner, staying in the top half of his group -- at least for now.

Monday's singles action kicked off with the biggest shock of the tournament so far. Third seeded Andy Murray, a winner of three titles since the U.S. Open, took on David Ferrer, who hadn't captured a trophy since Acapulco in February. The Spaniard, who'd lost his last four matches to Murray, found himself in an early deficit this morning but quickly pulled back even. Though both players had plenty of chances to cause damage on his return games, it was Ferrer who took advantage again to close out the set. Murray was again the aggressor early in the second, but the pair traded breaks throughout with the fifth seed ultimately denying the Brit a tiebreak and notching the win -- his first on a hardcourt, and the first real upset in London.

We were almost treated to another surprise when world #1 Novak Djokovic took on second-time final qualifier Tomas Berdych in Monday's second match. The erstwhile Wimbledon runner-up built a 3-0 lead on the Serb early and held on long enough to take the first set. The Czech's quality of play dropped a bit in the second, getting fewer than half of his first serves in, but got the break in the decider and a 4-2 lead. But Djokovic, who'd only lost one match to a player out of the top five all year, immediately broke back. Berdych earned himself a pair of match points a few games later, but both were rejected. In the tiebreak, Nole took control early and finally closed it out after more than two-and-a-half hours of play.

So there was only one true upset early in this year's World Tour Final, but even the favorites were put through the ringer for their first wins. It just goes to show that pretty much any of these guys is a real contender for the title, and with a lot of round robin bouts still left to go, there's plenty of room for things to turn around -- and quickly.

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