(November 4, 2012) -- It is indeed fitting that Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, two of the three men vying for the unofficial stamp of “Player of the Year” in London, have been placed in the same group for the ATP World Tour Finals. Why? Because their collective performances here a year ago were nothing short of disastrous. Meaning in 2012, they must prove themselves at year’s end.
Roger Federer, who headlines Group B all by himself at the season-ending championships at London’s O2 Arena, is the defending champ here, and is joined by a pesky trio in his group: David Ferrer, Juan Martin del Potro, and Janko Tipsarevic.
Group A—that of Djokovic and Murray—is rounded out by Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
A year ago, it was a sputtering finish for Djokovic, who had one of tennis’ most historic seasons in 2011. He won just one match (against Berdych) before registering losses to Ferrer and countryman Tipsarevic. Coming out of the US Open, he was 63-2 on the year. He went 7-4 over the fall. Oops.
A repeat performance could be in cards for Nole, who looked sluggish last week at the Paris Masters Series in his first match after leading Sam Querrey 6-0, 2-0. The Djoker hasn’t won a Slam since the Australian Open. While 2012 has been no repeat of 2011 for him, his form is still one of the best in the game (he won titles in Beijing and Shanghai before Paris), which leaves the ultimate question looming: Can tennis’ most tireless player finish the year still standing?
With Rafael Nadal out of the event (see you Down Under, Rafa!), Murray joins Djokovic as the two baseliners who will hit and hit and hit their way through the field—or at least try to. And much like Djokovic, Andy had a dismal showing last week at Bercy, crashing out to tennis’ new boy wonder, Jerzy Janowicz.
Murray wants to wipe away the memory of his forgetful finish from last year, where he lost to David Ferrer in straight sets and then pulled out of the tournament due to a groin strain. His year to date—with an Olympic gold and his first Slam title at the US Open in hand—should give the Brit more confidence that he can go out on top. But was Bercy just a hiccup?
It’s Federer who, although a lackluster fall season thus far, might come in freshest of the group having been the only man here not to play in Paris. He was the champ in Bercy a year ago, but cited plain tiredness as the reason for pulling out last week. “I need time to prepare,” he said. Looking at the way Djokovic and Murray slumped here a year ago (and their questionable performances last week), the Fed may have made the best chess move he could have coming into London. Credit: Mirka? Whatever the answer, Federer knows not to overplay.
And what about the rest of the field?
Murray and Djokovic are set to contend with Berdych and Tsonga, two guys who have been hovering outside the Big Four for years now. They’ve each scored respective big wins and have played in Slam finals (JWT 2009 Aussie, TB 2010 Wimby), so if the top seeds in this group come in at less than 100%, they’re apt to pounce.
As for Federer, his group has a little more mystery to it. Ferrer just came off an epic week in Paris in which he won his first-ever Masters Series, though he beat just one Top 10 player (Tsonga) to do so. For someone who tires even less than Djokovic and Murray, the Spaniard will be riding an emotional high into London. But will his legs feel five straight match days come his second and third round robin encounters?
Perhaps the most dangerous and unpredictable player in Group A—and in the tournament—is Del Potro. The Argentine has finally returned (completely?) to his 2009 US Open-winning self this fall, taking titles in Vienna and Basel. In the Basel final, he did what he couldn’t in six prior tries this year: beat Federer. The win over Fed on Swiss turf surely spikes JMDP’s confidence, and an early loss in Paris last week to Michael Llodra was perhaps a blessing in disguise.
Tipsarevic, Janko: See “lackluster performance.” Five points, Janko? You could have done it.
While Federer feels to be the favorite coming in to the year’s final tournament, he’s certainly no shoe-in, especially with the round-robin play format. Will Djokovic or Murray snatch de facto Player of the Year status? Or could a dark horse like Ferrer or Del Potro come alive for three, four, five matches? It’s certainly going to be fun to watch. Just stay healthy, boys.
There was little to be expected last week in Taipei (Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic was the winner there), and the same could be said for a similar $125K WTA stop in Pune, India, the last tournament of the year for the ladies. Except, well, there's more than a little to watch. Namely because of the presence of three women: old-timers Tamarine Tanasugarn and Kimiko Date-Krumm, seeded No. 8 and 5, respectively, and comeback kid Andrea Petkovic.
Petko took a late-entry wildcard into Pune, essentially looking to build on her No. 143 ranking as much as she can. A year ago this woman was Germany's top ranked player. Now? She's ranked below Tatjana Malek. And Annika Beck. (WHO?) Her semifinal run at Linz (she lost that dramatic three-setter to Venus) will only bolster her hope for a renewed self in 2013. And a title in Pune? That wouldn't feel too bad, either.
(File Photo: David Ferrer at the 2011 U.S. Open; Credit: Corleve)