The top eight tennis players in the world gathered this week in London to play the Barclays Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) World Tour Finals. The tournament was decided when Roger Federer withdrew from the final with a back injury, giving the title to Novak Djokovic.
This year’s race to qualify was unusually close, and the last four spots were filled only a week before the tournament’s start. Rafael Nadal, world No. 3, pulled out of the World Tour Finals after an appendectomy in early November, leaving an extra spot open in the draw. Six players had a chance to fill those spots at the Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) Paribas the week before the finals. There, Kei Nishikori defeated David Ferrer in the quarterfinals, guaranteeing himself a spot. David Ferrer was knocked out of contention because of this loss, allowing Canadian Milos Raonic into the final spot in the eightman tournament.
The World Tour Finals begins by dividing the eight men into two groups for round robin play. Group A consisted of Novak Djokovic, Stanislas Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic. Group B was made up of Roger Federer, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic and Andy Murray.
The spectators expected to be treated to long, competitive matches at the best-of-three-sets events. Instead, most of the matches were blowouts. Only two of the twelve round robin matches went to a third set. On Thurs., Nov 13, Nishikori defeated Ferrer—who replaced an injured Milos Raonic—with a score of 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. The next day, Wawrinka defeated Cilic in a battle of newly-crowned major champions with 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
After the round robin stage, two semifinalists advanced from each group. From Group A, Djokovic emerged, undefeated, and Wawrinka followed with two wins. Group B’s semifinalists were Federer, who also went undefeated, and Nishikori.
Though most matches during the week were straight set victories, both semifinals were three-set affairs. First, Djokovic defeated Nishikori 6-1, 3-6, 6-0. Djokovic’s defense was initially too much for world No. 5 Nishikori. However, he answered by increasing his aggressive tactics to take the only set Djokovic would lose the whole week. Nishikori, who had been struggling with a wrist injury all week, could not maintain his consistency and Djokovic ran away with the final set.
The last semifinal was the most dramatic match of the tournament. Federer defeated friend and compatriot Wawrinka in a match that lasted almost three hours. Wawrinka took the first set off the higher ranked player by overpowering him. Federer had been successfully charging the net at any opportunity this week, but could not manage to do it against Wawrinka. Federer turned things around in the second by using his serve and forehand to counter Wawrinka’s power game. In the third set, the drama heightened as both players received bad calls. Wawrinka broke Federer in his first service game of the set, and served for the match at 5-4. In that game, he held three match points against Federer and serve-and-volleyed on all three. Federer saved them with a forehand passing shot and two errors from Wawrinka. From there Federer broke to take the set to a tiebreaker, where Wawrinka held another match point. Electing not to serve-and-volley, he lost a fourth match point when he made a backhand error from the baseline. It was then Federer’s turn to have a match point on his racquet. Federer hit a winner at the net to end the match with a score of 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (6).
Federer would pull out of the final with a back injury he sustained in the long semifinal. He would have been playing for a chance to win his seventh trophy at the event. The walkover allowed Djokovic to be crowned champion for the third consecutive time at the Finals. The final day was instead filled with exhibition tennis. For fans, it is unfortunate that after the closely contested race to qualify that this year’s tournament would not deliver on the excitement that preceded it.