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Nole’s red carpet game is on this week in London (check him and Jelena out at Thursday night’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals Gala, an event that raised over £400,000 for a children’s charity), but his shoulder problems are shedding doubt on his upcoming on-court performance. The standard line seems to be: he has nothing to prove and any loss he takes will fall into the category of “So what?” He’s won the title before, back in ’08, so it’s not like we don’t know he can do it. Victory in London this week would add a certain luster to what some commentators are calling the best season ever for a tennis player, and burnish the aura of invincibility that Nole’s cultivated for months. Thus the major questions going into the World Tour Finals are questions of effort: how hard will (or can) Novak Djokovic play and how hard will his opponents – in Group A we’re talking Berdych, Ferrer and Murray – try to beat him?
That’s the tough thing about the WTF – the season is so long, so grueling and so focused on Major success (at least among the Top 4 players, who have also dominated the Masters events this year) that by the time this glitzy tourny comes around with all its smoke machines and prize money everyone’s just wondering who still gives a damn.
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It’s safe to say that Roger Federer still does. (Check out Mr. Sexy posing at the Gala) The five time WTF winner and defending champion could become the only player in history to win the event six times. He’s always had a soft spot for this tournament, winning his first year end title in 2003, the year he broke through and won his first Wimbledon. He goes into London on the strength of back to back titles in Basel and Bercy and appears fit and injury free. And as usual, everybody’s wondering: does the old man still have it? (Interesting note in a recent Daily Mail article – Federer’s already meeting with Nike to plan his 2013 wardrobe. Rio 2016 here we come!)
Here’s the breakdown by group – and a group hug! Aww. . .
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Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are in the same round robin group for the first time, guaranteeing that we’ll see them face off at least once more before the year is over. Roger hasn’t had much luck against Nadal since beating him at this event last year (he’s lost to the Spaniard all three times they’ve played this season), but he has dominated Rafa at this event. Tennis.com has a fun review of the rivalry – pointing out that three of Roger’s eight career wins over Nadal have come at the WTF. Will the indoor surface and end of the season freshness still favor Fed? Through Rafa’s apparently been given a clean bill of health by Davis Cup doctors ahead of Spain’s final vs. Argentina, it’s easy to imagine the doctor giving Rafa a stern look over his stethoscope and saying “But don’t push it!”
Here’s Rafa with the lovely Xisca. I guess when you make the WTF, glam girlfriends are the must-have accessory.
Speaking of glammed up – I guess I missed Tomas’s breakup with Lucie Safarova.
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Booo. Having Lucy by his side made the icy Tomas just a wee bit likeable. Now, well, I guess he doesn’t give a damn what I think. . .
Roger kicks off the singles action at the O2 arena on Sunday, where he’ll play the same guy he played last Sunday in the Bercy finals: the lovely Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Mardy Fish is the other guy in the Fedal Group, playing in his first ever year end tournament. Here’s Mardy’s take on his place in Group B (via Tennis.com):
“There’s really not too many holes there—apart from me, I think,” Fish said with a laugh. “I still don’t feel like I really belong in that group. But I’ll take it. I’ll enjoy it for sure.”
Fish is a worthy dark horse, and I look forward to seeing how he handles this big chance. Though the event is often pooh poohed as a near-exhibition, it’s clear that tournament new comers take a lot of pride in making it to the big show. Just look at how Mardy practiced his best Zoolander in anticipation. His wife Stacey’s like “Hey, Mardy, I could get used to this!”
Photo by REUTERS/Luke MacGregor via Daylife
Along with Roger, Andy Murray goes into this tournament with the most momentum (18 wins in his last 19 matches and three titles during the autumn Asian swing) and the best motivation. I highly recommend you check out his recent interview in the Daily Mail. Here’s a snippet about why he does give a damn about reaching and keeping that No. 3 spot above Roger at year’s end:
‘Getting from 20 to five seems a bigger step than four to three, but the closer you are to top spot, the bigger the leap,’ Murray says. ‘It felt huge to move up this year because I knew it was such a significant improvement. It will be different the next time I get into a Grand Slam final.
‘After the US Open I sat down with the guys in my team and said now is the time to be totally serious, totally focused, because I’ve never felt closer to making that breakthrough.
Murray’s never won the WTF, and to do so for the first time, in London, on such a great streak would be the kind of breakthrough he could ride through to Melbourne.
Don’t forget the doubles! Go Bryans! Go Llodra! Go Indo-Pak Express!
Bob Bryan / Mike Bryan
Mahesh Bhupathi / Leander Paes
Robert Lindstedt / Horia Tecau
Jurgen Melzer / Philipp Petzschner
Michael Llodra / Nenad Zimonjic
Daniel Nestor / Max Mirnyi
Rohan Bopanna / Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi
Mariusz Fyrstenberg / Marcin Matkowski
For more on WTF doubles, I suggest checking out The Doubles Alley blog, written by my colleague Van Sias.