It’s been a long hard season of excessive grunting and drinking diabetes-inducing levels of Robinson’s Barley. The leading lights of the tennis world have been firing serves and non-specific allegations of feigning injury at each other for much of the year, but the end is in sight. Before that however, it’s off to London for the ATP World Finals for an event low on quantity, but high on quality as the world’s top 8 battle it out before heading for their tax haven residences and enjoy a well deserved off-season
The obituaries for Roger Federer need to be ‘saved as draft’ for the time-being. He didn’t quite hit the heights of his phase of dominance, but by giving Jo-Wilfried Tsonga a comprehensive thumping to claim his first Paris Masters title, the Fed Express reminded everyone that he’s not fit to be wheeled into the tennis old folks home that is the BBC commentary team just yet. The detractors will point out injuries and surprise defeats meant he avoided the world’s top 3 en route to success and it’s undeniably true, but he’s still clearly superior to all but two or three players in the world – depending on the particular surface.
The 2011 season hasn’t featured as many trophies as much of his peak years, but he hasn’t been too far off the pace either. This year he was named the 2nd most Respected And Trusted Person in the world. Nelson Mandela topped that poll, but the consolation is Mandela’s forehand is nowhere near as good as Roger’s. Even on a supposed decline, this year he has managed a Grand Slam record of one final, two semi-finals and a quarter-final for the year – a record Tim Henman pretty much amassed over a career. You’re only as old as the creaking pains you feel is the slightly tweaked cliché relevant to Federer and his graceful style over the years may mean his body allows him to hang around amongst the game’s elite for a couple more years than expected. He’s the defending champion and a successful defence of the title would see him become the first man to claim 6 wins in the event and claim another admittedly minor feather in his cap when it comes to all those ‘greatest of all time’ debates.
Novak Djokovic started the year as the guy we laughed at for having misguided notions of competing with the Nadal-Federer duopoly and he finishes it by cramming a whole heap of cynicism down our throats. His incredible year has come at a price and Nole is falling apart like a 30 year old Fiesta – or a brand new Toyota. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he actually sidesteps the end of season jamboree in favour of putting his feet up and recovering his energies for a sustained push at Grand Slam success in 2012. Even if he does turn up, you’d have to doubt if he has the will or the energy to negotiate the drawn-out round robin and knockout format. It’s a similar story for Rafa Nadal whose ongoing niggles show little sign of relenting. If he arrives in Greenwich fit and well, he’s obviously good enough to claim his first win in the event, but whether or not he’s able to hurl his body around the court chasing every point like his life depends on it will dictate what chance he has.
All in all, it’s shaping up nicely for Andy Murray. It’s exactly the type of ‘Grand Slam standard that’s not a Grand Slam’ event he has hovered up over the years and in turn added to the overwhelming weight of expectation. Andy has shown time and time again that he’s good enough to beat the best in the world, but I wonder if he has the stamina – both mental and physical – for winning Grand Slams. The week long, maximum of three set bursts you get in the Masters’ events suit his reserves of energy more than fortnight of pressure and getting taunted about having his mum there all the time that is the majors. The admittedly sketchy evidence to support that theory is he has got to three finals of the slams, but he’s yet to even win a set. That may seem like some needless Andy-bashing, but if anything it’s a ringing endorsement of his chances of winning at the generic mobile provider arena. He’ll face Djokovic in the round-robin stages and even when Djokovic is fully fit and not being held together by sellotape, the Scot has reason enough to think he’s beatable.
The rest of the field fall into a lazy ‘decent, but not in the same class’ category, which will no doubt give the ATP rankings a little needed ego boost. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has shown he’s capable of competing with the world’s best on occasion, but struggled to do it consistently – which means this competition is eminently winnable for him. Tomas Berydch ended Andy Murray’s winning streak in Paris last week and could upset a couple of bigger names, but winning it might be stretch. Mardy Fish has been in the form of his life in recent months, but as much of that life has been spent as a journeyman pro, it’s probably nothing to get too excited about and his contribution will be limited to being an awkward round-robin stage opponent. David Ferrer is likely to frustrate plenty of opponents with his impression of a wall, but again, he’s expected to be starting his off-season before the event reaches the weekend.
Andy’s more than capable of ramping up the expectations for 2012 by ending the season on a high note.