October 19, 2014

Finish With a Bang

With the 2014 ATP almost wrapped up, there was not a lot of time left to nab the last few spots left at the London finals. But this weekend a couple guys on the cusp, who'd been a little more quiet than usual, made a real play for the year-end championships, and one clinched his first ever trip to the O2 to cap off what's so far been the best year of his career.

Tomas Berdych was looking to make up for some middle-of-the-road results throughout most of the year. The world #7 had picked up a title in Rotterdam early in the year, but he lost the couple other finals he played this season, one inexplicably to sub-fifty player Carloq Berlocq in Oeiras. But this week in Stockholm, he was one of the few favorites to survive some early carnage -- Kevin Anderson lost his opener to Bernard Tomic and Alexandr Dolgopolov was taken down too by Adrian Mannarino. And even though the top seed did reach Sunday's final, he was sure to be challenged by Grigor Dimitrov, who'd been staging quite the coming-out party all year. The Bulgarian actually took the first set, but Berdych rebounded strong in the next two, never allowing a break opportunity and dropping just a handful of points on serve. After just under two-and-a-half hours the Czech had ended what seemed like a long losing streak and finally came out on top again, holding his spot as #7 on the London leaderboard, and taking one more step toward his fifth straight appearance at the year ends.

Andy Murray has had a longer history at the London finals, but for most of the year it seemed like he might not make it here. Having skipped the event last year after surgery he had a slow-for-him start to the year, fell out of the top ten after the U.S. Open and didn't pick up his first title of the year until last month in Shenzhen, even then almost losing to Tommy Robredo in the final. He had a much stronger showing this week in Vienna, though -- somewhat luckily meeting each of his opponents right after they struggled through long three set matches. He did drop the first set to David Ferrer in the final too, risking another loss to the man who knocked him out of the Shanghai Masters just a week earlier, but he too rallied from the early deficit and battled through a break-filled decider before ultimately scoring the win. Now eighth in the race to London, he's in the best position he's had all year to qualify for his seventh season championship.

Marin Cilic has come close to qualifying for London in the past, but after the stunning year he's had in 2014, this seemed to be his best opportunity. The world #8 lost the final in Rotterdam to Berdych, but won titles in the weeks before and after. His real victory, of course, came just a few weeks ago when he shocked Roger Federer and then Kei Nishikori to take the U.S. Open crown, his first Grand Slam title, propelling him into the sport's elite. In Moscow this week, he was the second seed, but became the favorite once Milos Raonic fell in his opener. And in the final against Roberto Bautista Agut, another of the year's breakthroughs, he rose to the occasion again -- the only one of this weekend's champions who wasn't pushed to a third set in the final, he denied the Spaniard on all six break opportunities and closed out the win in under ninety minutes. The proved the Croat wouldn't be satisfied resting on his New York laurels and sealed his entry to his first London final. And given the way he's played all year, there's no reason to think he won't be a force in it.

This weekend's winners may not have had the most consistent results all year long, but they sure knew how to up their game when it counted. Rounding out the season with a couple big wins put their names back on the map as time ticks down to the London final. And with just a few weeks left in 2014, there may have been no better time to do it.

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