ATP World Tour Finals Preview- Horror Show or Showstopper?

ATP Finals

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The ATP World Tour Finals (WTF) will bring the curtain down on the 2017 ATP  season, and the question is just what are we going to see on one of tennis’ biggest stages this year- a horror show or showstopping finale? The Tennis Review previews the tournament’s two round robin groups and gives you its predictions.

Sampras Group: Rafa Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin.

Carlos Moya says Rafa Nadal is fit and ready to go and the year end No.1’s quest to win his first ever WTF title is the headlining story for the Sampras group. The fact Nadal’s name is not etched on the WTF trophy where it belongs alongside other greats such as Borg, Lendl, Sampras, Federer, Djokovic and McEnroe is, considering he has achieved everything else there is to achieve in tennis, one of the sport’s oddities.

At some point, one would imagine Nadal’s mental strength and cross-surface adaptability would be strong enough to triumph against the odds the tournament pits against him- the indoor hard surface and its low bounce, and the Head ATP balls, balls which do not react well to spin and ones with which Nadal has made no secret of his displeasure with.

Nadal may not be a former WTF champ, but he is anything but a slouch at the season finale- in his seven appearances there, he has made the semis three times, and the final twice, a record which suggests the top seed, considering the season he has had, is more than capable, if he has recovered from his knee issues, to reach the semis and give himself another shot at the title, and the trophy’s elusive nature could be just what Nadal needs to push himself through the physical pain that comes with a No.1 ranking season and past any insecurities the conditions might trigger in him to finally be the first to cross the WTF finish line.

Nadal Dimitrov

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Group Winner: Dimitrov. If the Bulgarian is going to get another win over Nadal (Nadal leads the head to head 10-1) then these conditions might be the best ones in which for him to do so, and this stage of the season might be the right time. If Dimitrov is not quite ready to make that step, he should at least take Nadal the distance for the fourth time this season and pip Nadal to the top spot on sets won.

Runner-up: Nadal. Even if his knees are still bothering him- it is rumored he asked for his Sunday start to be postponed till Monday- the Spaniard is no stranger, like most tennis pros, to playing through stress and injury, and he should have too much game, even playing below his best, for Thiem or Goffin. Goffin likes indoor conditions but has had a less than remarkable indoor run recently.  Thiem, meanwhile, will not be expected to progress to the semis, the fourth seed has been struggling of late, going 2-5 since the US Open.

Becker Group: Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Jack Sock.

Federer cannot reach No.1 by winning the title, but, if he wins a seventh ATP WTF trophy and first since 2011,he could end up being seen as the real No.1 in many a fan and pundit’s eye. Federer, the only player in the draw to have won the title, should come into the event with enough motivation and form to get the better of a tired Zverev, the predictably inconsistent Cilic, and top ten newbie Sock.

The runner up spot in this group is as much a crapshoot as your scrappiest tiebreak. All three remaining players have big questions marks hanging over them- Zverev seems like he has had enough of tennis in a season which has seen him climb to world No.3, Cilic has had a fairly decent indoor hard season (5-2), but trails all three of his round robin rivals in their head to heads (2-12), and Sock is an unknown quantity at an event of this prestige facing such strong opposition.

Group winner– A healthy and fit Federer has won nearly every event he has been favored in this season (Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami, Halle, Wimbledon, Shanghai) and there is nothing to suggest that trend is going to end at one of his best tournaments.

Second place– Sock is as good as a wildcard here. Of everyone in the draw, Sock has the least to lose, he has the killer combo of momentum and confidence, and, unlike his higher ranked young rivals in the draw, he is anything but jaded after breaking into the top ten, qualifying for his first WTF and winning his first ATP 1000 title in Paris-Bercy just less than a week ago. The head to heads are in his favor, too- the world No.9 is 1-1 versus Zverev, winning their only indoor hard court match at Stockholm ’16, and, versus Cilic, he is 2-0, beating the former US Open champ in straight sets in the Flushing Meadows 3rd round in 2016

The semisFederer vs Nadal. Federer is 4-0 this season vs Nadal, each time winning in favorable conditions, and it is hard to see him not going 5-0.

Dimitrov vs Sock. The event’s last qualifier, Sock, is one of the last players Dimitrov will want to see across the net in a big match like the ATP WTFs- Sock leads him 3-1 in their head to head, which means the match would be a good workout for Dimitrov before potentially facing Federer in the final. Dimitrov should still win the contest despite the head the head deficit- three of the four matches have gone three sets, the one Dimitrov lost in straight sets was on his weakest surface, clay, Dimitrov has won the only one played on indoor hard (Stockholm ’14), and the Bulgarian has been on a steep learning curve this season and has the necessary experience now to handle the pressure and win a big match in which he will be the favorite.

The Final- Federer would be the favorite- he leads Dimitrov 6-0 and has won four of those matches in straight sets. The match may not be that straightforward, though- Dimitrov has made significant progress this season and may be due his watershed moment. One thing is pretty certain, though, whatever the outcome, the story will be a popular one- a Federer victory aged 36 or Dimitrov breaking through to win his biggest title yet- and the tennis should be very pretty, too.

So, what will we get at this year’s ATP WTF- horror show or showstopper?

The ATP WTF comes at the end of a grueling season, and while the tournament may be big on prestige it can be low on quality with the outcomes often too predictable and with most of the matches one-sided, lackluster non-contests. This year, while there may be some horror show moments, with the resurgence of Federer and Nadal, the rise of Thiem, Zverev and Dimitrov, the swift comeback of Goffin, the unknown quality of Cilic, and the last dash splash of Sock, there should be enough show stopping moments to make this ATP world tour finals one tennis fans might be able to, now and then, climb out from behind their sofas, take a seat, and enjoy the show.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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