The toast of London
We take a closer look at the ATP World Tour Finals and give our verdict on the likely finalists in London.
By Elliot Ball
Last Updated: 20/11/09 12:15pm
Skysports.com takes a closer look at the ATP World Tour Finals and gives a verdict on who will turn out to be the toast of London.
Now the two round-robin groups have been decided, a clearer indication of who will be claiming Greenwich glory has become apparent and it comes as no surprise that we fancy the top four in the rankings to battle it out in the latter stages at the O2 arena.
If you have to press us to name the two finalists, we reckon home-hope Andy Murray and four-time winner and world number one Roger Federer will square off for the title dubbed as the "fifth major on the calendar".
Murray gets the honour of kicking-off the first match of a five-year stint that England's capital will hold the season-ending championships but the star Scot and world number four, in the arguably tougher Group A, faces the last man to win a slam in his first match - US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro.
Murray's saving grace for the Del Potro clash is the Argentine hot-shot's fitness doubts, coming into the tournament with a health worry after being forced to retire on court at the quarter-finals stage of the Paris Masters.
That said, the 21-year-old South American went further in the French tournament than the British number one, who surprisingly fell to Radek Stepanek in the third round, it should prove an intriguing and potentially decisive affair as to who will join our second finalist tip Federer in the semi-finals.
Federer hardly boasts form which has heralded him as the favourite for this year's tournament, but the Swiss star's love affair with London (six Wimbledon crowns) is such that you would not put it past the 28-year-old to delve into his reserves of tournament-winning tennis to ensure he adds another title to his chocker trophy cabinet.
And if the game's all-time leading Slam winner needed any extra motivation, he does not have to look further than the record-books, which he so often smashes like a tennis ball, offering the chance to join fellow-legends Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl on five tour finals wins.
Fernando Verdasco, whose qualification for the season-ending event was secured almost entirely on the Australian Open semi-final appearance made nearly a year ago, makes up the numbers in the first group so do not expect the Spaniard to make inroads on his first appearance in the finals.
But let us tell you why we have not opted for in-form defending champion Novak Djokovic or the world number two Rafael Nadal before you go off and splash your spare change on either Federer or Murray.
Group B's top two will judge progression to the semi-finals as a bare minimum requirement after being aided by the absence of world number six Andy Roddick, who was forced to pull out of London because of injury.
In his place is the big-hitting world number nine Robin Soderling, who makes his debut in the tour finals in a group which also contains last year's runner-up Nikolay Davydenko.
Neither man can be taken lightly, but world number three Djokovic will be confident of inflicting more misery on the diminutive Russian, whom he conquered 12 months ago, while four-time French Open champion Nadal will be desperate to avenge his first ever Roland Garros defeat earlier this year by the hands of agricultural Swede.
So after talking the duo up, why do we then predict their demise in the last four stage?
Djokovic has been in imperious form of late, the same kind which yielded a US Open final appearance before a maiden success at the Australian Open.
But to do so the Serbian sensation has ploughed his endeavours into the final stages of the season, none more so than his antics to claim the Paris Masters, and has now played 94 matches this season - more than any other player.
The 22-year-old's history of burnout is frequent enough to suggest a gruelling three-set clash with say a fresh Murray could prove the catalyst to Djokovic's demise.
Nadal, meanwhile, cannot argue the case of fatigue this year - as in the case of seasons 2005 and 2008 where he was not fit enough to compete - after missing the majority of the summer with tendinitis in both knees.
Since returning to action, Spain's top talent has yet to find the level he produced in abundance last year, demonstrated by the title drought which has engulfed his thoughts of late.
The 23-year-old king of clay has not won a title since May in a year which has seen the Majorcan suffer personal troubles in the break-up of his parents and on-court anguish of losing the top ranking to Federer due to his injury lay-off.
Add the fact the indoor hard court being used at the O2 suits Nadal the least of the title contenders, then the Spaniard's quest for an elusive tour finals trophy appears a challenge too far.
With a staggering reported sell-out of 260,000 tickets sold confirming this year's world tour finals as the biggest indoor tennis tournament in history, here's to the elite eight ensuring that the 2009 season ends with a bang.