November 8, 2012

Moving Forward.

It's been an exciting couple of days in the U.S., and whether or not you agree with the results of the Presidential election, we have been given a leader who promises a brighter future for the nation. The stakes might not be quite as high at the ATP Championships being contested this week in London, but so far the incumbent powerhouses have put on quite a show, and with their last-minute campaigning, they could prove they're more than ready to lead this sport for some time to come.

Group A

With two round robin matches in the books already, we still don't have any final calls for the first group of candidates. World #1 Novak Djokovic, though, certainly looks in the best shape to make the semifinals -- the 2008 champion has gone 2-0 in his early rounds, avenging Andy Murray again on Wednesday to take the lead. He'll next face Tomas Berdych, a man who's only beaten him once in their eleven meetings, so chances are pretty good he'll advance.

But hot on his tails will be Andy Murray -- the U.S. Open champion has had a breakthrough year, and the prospect of an ATP championship would put the cherry on top. He's 1-1 in London so far, and needed three sets in his win as well as in his loss, but as long as he can get at least one set off of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga tomorrow, it's pretty likely he'll make the final four.

Hope isn't quite lost for Berdych or Tsonga yet, but as the less experienced players in the group -- both are making their third trip to the Championships -- it makes sense their roads forward will be tougher. The Czech has been strong in recent months, stunning Roger Federer in New York and winning a title in Stockholm. A win tomorrow could rocket him to the top of the group standings. Meanwhile Tsonga, who's had a bit of trouble defending points he'd accumulated late last year, hasn't won a match yet in London, but if he manages a win tomorrow he also has an outside chance to make it back to the semis.

Group B

There are still some ballots to be cast among the other London hopefuls, but long-standing seat-holder Roger Federer's performance so far has at least earned him a ticket to the semis. The six-time winner may have ceded the top ranking spot in recent weeks, but as the eldest statesman in the group, there should be no surprise he's been untouchable so far this week. He trampled sophomore senator Janko Tipsarevic on Tuesday and finally ended David Ferrer's eleven-match win streak earlier today. He still has one more round robin to go, of course, facing his Basel vanquisher Juan Martin Del Potro on Saturday, but even with a guaranteed spot on Sunday, I wouldn't expect him to give anything less than his all it that match.

The other spot will come down to either Ferrer or Del Potro, both of whom have had solid fall runs this year. Their two-plus hour match on Tuesday ultimately went in the Spaniard's favor, and after quietly winning two titles since the U.S. Open it seems only fair that he's so close to making another trip to the London semis. But DelPo just needs to repeat his win over Federer in Switzerland to keep that from happening -- and while the Argentine is 1-6 against the defending champ, he did take a two-set lead over the veteran in Roland Garros and very nearly defeated him at the Olympics. This spot, it seems, is hardly decided, and I really can't think of two people more deserving of the chance to earn it.

Only Janko Tipsarevic is wholly left out of contention after two rounds of play in London. He's been sick, yes -- since retiring from his quarterfinal against Jerzy Janowicz last week in Paris, he was crushed by Federer in his first match at the World Tour Final and lost the opening six games to Del Potro before finally getting on the board today. I can't say I'm too disappointed -- Tipsy lost himself a legion of fans after some controversial comments he made this summer, and while that certainly wouldn't have affected his play, in this day and age it certainly cost him some of the popular vote.

So while [most of] the votes have been tallied on this side of the Atlantic, there is still some more campaigning left to go in London, and after the handful of matches we've seen already it certainly looks like the most experienced have the advantage. Still we can't quite rule out an October surprise, even if it comes in the early days of November -- all we can know for certain is that the eventual winner will usher in the new year as the man to beat. And if he can continue to play with the power it'll take him to win this title, the future of this sport looks very bright indeed.

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