ATP World Tour Finals Preview

ATP World Tour Finals Preview

The annual year-end event on the ATP calendar takes place again at The O2 Arena in London. Novak Djokovic leads the field of eight into battle as the three-time defending Champion of the event.

chris-spiech
Chris Spiech

Novak Djokovic will look to add to an epic season with yet another title. A win at the ATP World Tour Finals would net the Serb his 11th title of the season. A successful defense of his championship would also see him climb within one of Roger Federer for the most titles at this event. Federer has won the year-end event six times.

The Field

World number one Novak Djokovic headlines the field of eight players taking part in singles play at the event. For Djokovic, this is his 9th appearance at the year-end event. He has won the title four times with three of those coming in London in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Second ranked Andy Murray plays in the Tour Finals for the seventh time. The Scot has only made it out of the Round Robin round three times. Roger Federer heads to London in the third spot in the rankings with a chance to usurp Murray. Federer has won this event six times and is appearing in this tournament for a record breaking 14th time. The fourth slot is occupied by Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss makes it three straight years advancing to the Tour Finals. He has advanced to the semifinals both previous years.

The field continues with fifth ranked Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard is taking part in the Tour Finals for the 11th time. Nadal has never won the event, but has made two appearances in the final in 2010 and 2013. Sixth ranked Tomas Berdych is here for the sixth consecutive year. The 30-year-old Czech has only made it out of the Round Robin stage once back in 2011. David Ferrer makes his return to the field of eight after serving as an alternate in 2014. Ferrer's best finish at the year-end event came in 2007 when he lost in the final to Roger Federer. Rounding out the field is 8th ranked Kei Nishikori. Nishikori is back for the second straight year. He showed well in his first appearance, making the semifinals where he lost to Djokovic in three sets.

The Format

The ATP World Tour Finals has a unique format. The field of eight is divided into a pair of four player groups. Those two groups then go through a Round Robin schedule where each player will play a total of three matches, one against each member of their group. The two players with the best record in each group then advance to the semifinals. There, the top player from Group 1 plays the second player from Group 2, while the top player from Group 2 plays the second player from Group 1. The winners advance to the final. This year's groups are named after Stan Smith and Ilie Nastase. Smith was the winner of the inaugural Tour Finals in Tokyo in 1970. Nastase was a four time winner of the event with his last championship coming in 1975. The Stan Smith group is comprised of Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori. The Ilie Nastase group features Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal and David Ferrer.

Stan Smith Group Preview

Novak Djokovic will feel fairly comfortable playing in this group. His main competition comes from Roger Federer whom the Serb has beaten four of six times already this season. They have split their four meetings on hard courts this year, but none have come indoors. The most recent meeting came in the U.S. Open final where Djokovic won his tenth Grand Slam title 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. Federer's last win against Djokovic came in Cincinnati in August in the final 7-6 (1), 6-3. Djokovic holds a 2-1 edge in meetings at the Tour Finals with the Serb's lone win coming back in the 2010 semifinals. Djokovic is also 20-2 against Berdych, including 4-0 at the Tour Finals, and 4-2 against Nishikori. It would be a monumental upset for Djokovic not to claim one of the two spots to get out of this group.

Roger Federer will be favored to claim the other spot of course and he will open with a familiar opponent in Berdych. The Swiss maestro is 14-6 all-time against the Czech. Federer has won three straight against Berdych over the last two seasons. Berdych's last wins against Federer came in 2012 in the U.S. Open quarterfinals and then again in 2013 in Dubai. Federer has taken three of five career meetings against Nishikori. The two have not met since 2014 when Federer won both in Halle on grass and then again at last year's Tour Finals 6-3, 6-2 in the Round Robin stage. Federer has shown amazing consistency at this event over the years. He has failed to make it out of the group stage just once in 13 years. Federer should be comfortable enough against Berdych and Nishikori to get enough to advance.

Nishikori and Berdych will meet in this group for the first time since 2012. The Japanese star has won three of four career battles with all three wins coming on hard surfaces. Berdych would seem to be the longest shot of the four to make it out of the group. Since making the semifinals in 2011, he has gone 1-2 in each of the last three years in Round Robin play. One positive the Czech can take into this week is that Nishikori was banged up at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris a week or so ago. Nishikori retired due to an abdominal injury suffered against Richard Gasquet. That seemed to be a direct result of overcompensating for a back problem which had forced him into a medical timeout in the same match. Berdych may also have some increased confidence after taking Djokovic to a pair of tie breaks in losing to him 7-6, 7-6 in the Paris quarterfinals.

Illie Nastase Group Preview

The second group looks the more wide open of the two. Andy Murray comes in after losing in the Paris final to Djokovic 6-2, 6-4. It was a disappointing cap to a positive week. The Scot did beat David Ferrer in straight sets in the semifinals last week, so he will have a great chance to open against Ferrer this week with a win.  He has defeated the Spaniard in 11 of 16 career meetings and twice in 2015. The interesting thing for Murray will of course be the balancing act between playing well here and making sure he gets proper rest and preparation for the Davis Cup final against Belgium at the end of the month.

The other group members could pose a significantly larger problem. Murray is 8-6 against Wawrinka, but lost their last meeting at the 2013 U.S. Open quarterfinals. Murray is 6-3 against the Swiss on hard courts, but none of those have come indoors. Murray has been a solid threat on indoor hard courts in his career. In 2015, he has won ten of 12 matches, which includes four in Davis Cup play. Rafael Nadal has won 15 of 21 meetings with Murray. That includes a 2010 win over Murray in the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals. They have met less frequently of late though with only three meetings in the last two years. Murray surprisingly beat Nadal on clay this season in the Madrid final. Rafa pounded Murray twice in 2014 on clay at the French Open and in Rome. Their last hard court meeting was in Tokyo in 2011.

Stan Wawrinka has been his usual up and down self outside of Grand Slams. He is 11-4 since the U.S. Open with a 4-3 mark indoors in that stretch. He did take a set off Djokovic in Paris to break the world number one's consecutive sets won streak at 29. The Swiss should be refreshed ahead of his opener with Rafael Nadal. He has taken three of their last four matches, including a two tie break win in Paris in the quarterfinals. Nadal owns the only win when the two have met at the Tour Finals. That came in 2013 in the Round Robin stage via a two tie break result as well. Wawrinka also has good results against the other Spaniard in the group, David Ferrer. Wawrinka has won the past three meetings. That includes a win at the 2013 ATP World Tour Finals in three sets.

Rafael Nadal carries some of the best form of his season into this event. Nadal has gone 13-4 since the U.S. Open. A must win for Nadal will be his Round Robin match with Ferrer. Rafa is 23-6 all-time against his countryman, but has seen Ferrer win two of their last five encounters. They did split their last two hard court meetings which both came in 2013. Ferrer beat Nadal in straight sets in Paris that year, while Nadal returned the favor at the Tour Finals. Ferrer looks to be in a tough spot in this group with most of his recent meetings against fellow group members not going his way. What Ferrer does have is good form indoors with two indoor titles on the swing following the U.S. Open. One in Kuala Lumpur and the other in Vienna. The O2 may play a bit too fast for his liking though as he has lost five of his last six matches at this event.

Predictions
Stan Smith Group: Djokovic, Federer Advance
Ilie Nastasse Group: Wawrinka, Nadal Advance
Semifinals: Djokovic def. Nadal, Federer def. Wawrinka
Final: Djokovic def. Federer

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