Monday, 28 October 2013

Just how important are the ATP Tour Finals?

2012 Paris finalists
Just how important are the ATP Tour Finals?

With the Paris Masters starting this week, it offers a final chance for qualification to the ATP Tour Finals at the O2. There are 2 places still to play for, to be fought out between Federer, Wawrinka, Gasquet, Tsonga and Raonic. Haas, Youzhny and Almagro still have very slim hopes and need to win in Paris to even have a chance. It adds a new dimension to a tournament that otherwise can be a bit of a damp squib. For once, all of the major seeds (bar Murray due to injury) are participating and the final weekend could produce a top match (a slight contrast to last year's closing stages). 

Surprise entrant to 2008
Masters Cup finals
Which leads into the tour finals. It has been something of a mixed bag in recent years. The 2010 edition was the only year in recent history with the top 8 players actually competing, all of the others (including this year) having suffered at least one withdrawal, either before or during tournament. There was a ridiculous situation in 2008 when Nadal withdraw drew to fatigue and then Roddick pulled out after one match, having turned his ankle. This led to 26th ranked Radek Stepanek playing the final two group games (losing both), purely by virtue of being the highest ranked person prepared to travel to Shanghai. He was there without racquets, socks and even contact lenses. In 2009 Davydenko beat Del Potro in the final, but then it hit the heights with an amazing final between Federer and Nadal in 2010. 

In terms of ranking points, it is between Grand Slams and 1000 Series tournaments (like Paris this week), with a potential 1500 points to an undefeated champion (Grand Slams are 2000 points, 1000 series are (remarkably) worth 1000). So how much does it mean to a top player? How significant will they be looking back in history? Theoretically you wold think that a competition between only the game's elite would matter hugely in evaluating the quality of a player compared to his peers, but the reality is that the tournament is blighted by end-of-season fatigue and injuries.

Federer has won it 6 times and Djokovic twice, but Nadal has 0 wins and Murray's not yet even made a final. Of course the same old arguments arise about standard of opposition but the truth is that it's more to do with the fact that Nadal and Murray in particular are shattered by the end of a season and needing time to rest/recover for the next season. Fairly frequently Nadal/Djokovic are in the Davis Cup Final as well. 

In reality, a tournament that should be an absolute pinnacle and exciting climax to the season often fails to deliver and is unlikely to be considered a significant factor in considering players' legacies. Nevertheless, let's hope that this November's edition proves to be a classic. 

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