October 22, 2014

A Taste of What's to Come

As the ladies wrap up their year this week in Singapore, the men are trying to get a few more shots in before ending theirs. And with a few spots left at the ATP Championships in London next month, both the players who've already secured their post-season and the ones still trying to make it are spending this week showing the rest of the field exactly what they're made of.

Five-time Basel champ Roger Federer, who's lost the last two finals here to Juan Martin Del Potro, comes back to his homeland as the top seed and, while he did somewhat surprisingly drop a set today to always-tricky Denis Istomin, he got his game back together and showed he's more than still a contender for the year-end crown. Compatriot Stan Wawrinka, on the other hand, continues to struggle since his breakthrough start to the year -- though he secured a spot at his second straight World Tour Final, he's 0-for-4 since the U.S. Open, losing his opener this week to world #84 Mikhail Kukushkin. Rafael Nadal seems to have found his game though -- injured since late summer and now in need of an appendectomy, he's only lost six games so far this week and he next faces young upstart Borna Coric, a threat to be sure, but certainly less intimidating than some of the guys who've brought him down this year.

But it's the bubble players in Basel who're really out to impress. Ranked ninth in the race to London, Milos Raonic has fallen a bit from his post-Wimbledon high, retiring against Juan Monaco in his Shanghai Masters opener and then losing in three to world #116 Ricardas Berankis in Moscow. So far in Switzerland he's been pushed by Steve Johnson and earlier today dropped his middle set to often-spotty Donald Young. He's got a third round meeting with summer standout David Goffin and could be in for a bigger challenge than he expects. And Grigor Dimitrov, who dropped just outside the top ten after failing to defend his Stockholm title last week, struggled against wildcard Alexander Zverev in Basel. He seems to have rebounded well enough, but he's going to have to do something big in the coming weeks if he wants to leapfrog over the players just ahead of him.

Many of those guys made the trip to Valencia this week. Tomas Berdych, who took the trophy from Dimitrov in Sweden days ago, couldn't further his cause much in Spain, though -- he lost his opener in straight sets to Pablo Andujar and made his hold on the #7 spot for London slightly more tenuous. But both Vienna finalists are back in action this week -- neither three-time titleist David Ferrer nor Andy Murray, the champion at the Erste Open, have dropped a set yet. The two, on course for their third meeting in as many weeks in the semis, have given each other quite a run for the money recently, splitting their battles in Shanghai and Vienna and Austria, each of which went three sets. And they've both really been making a last minute push to qualify for London -- a big push by either this week really could make this race a photo finish.

It is only fitting that the best players in the world continue to bring their A-Game right down to the wire this season. And those who've already booked their tickets to Singapore really need to take notice of the ones bringing up the rear -- after all, these are the guys they'll be fighting for the year-end trophy. And if this week is any indication, it's going to be a big battle.

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