Last year, we wrote a review of the ATP World Tour Finals, and enjoyed ourselves immensely in the process. So we thought we’d do so again, and hopefully kickstart something of an annual tradition. We also went along to the O2 for the first evening, as Dodig and Melo beat Nestor and Zimonjic in the doubles, before Federer defeated Raonic to inflict a truly miserable night on any Canadian fans. This meant that we were particularly keen followers of the tournament as it unfolded, and hopefully some of the insights that we gained from watching events unfold with our own eyes, versus the usual medium of television, make it into the article. I certainly hope that our review is of better quality than some of the group matches, and more substantial than the final!
- Djokovic (W: 3, L: 0)
- Wawrinka (W: 2, L: 1)
- Berdych (W: 1, L: 2)
- Cilic (W: 0, L: 3)
This group looked fairly straightforward on paper and that was how it ultimately proved. Djokovic ran away with it, neither dropping a set nor looking flustered. He started with a 6-1, 6-1 rout of an off-colour Cilic, ended with a 6-2, 6-2 demolition of Berdych and contained in-between a 6-3, 6-0 master-class against Wawrinka, who had won the first two games. The only question that remained was which of the other three would find form to take second. That was answered in the first 51 minutes of the group as Wawrinka pummelled Berdych into submission on his was to a 6-1, 6-1 win. He secured qualification with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Cilic in his last match, restoring face following the humiliation at the hands of Djokovic. In the other match, Berdych continued his remarkable record of losing the first match but winning the second in London by prevailing 6-3, 6-1 over Cilic. Djokovic would go on to win the tournament by default, dropping a set to Nishikori in the semi-final, while Wawrinka had four match points against Federer but was unable to convert any of them and so bowed out despite a wonderful semi-final.
Novak Djokovic: 10/10 (Josh’s rating 9/10) W Cilic 1&1, W Wawrinka 3&0, W Berdych 2&2
Semi-final W Nishikori 6-1,3-6,6-0
Final W Federer w/o
From the first point until the walkover in the final, Djokovic reigned supreme. Is there anything I can say about him that hasn’t been said already? Let’s give that a go. At the moment, men’s tennis is essentially Novak-land. Players keep trying to scale the ladder that leads to his palace, only to be knocked back into place. Occasionally they reach the top and challenge the all-powerful leader but as soon as they do, they realise he has grown another 2 feet. The dictator, the magician, the God of tennis, the unmovable object – Novak is all and more. Usually one player dominating a sport makes it boring, but I can’t help and admire the prowess of this great man. In London, he made incredibly gifted athletes look like mere school children, running home and crying that the bully stole their lunch money. Only Kei Nishikori in the semi-final second set and Andy Murray in patches of the exhibition looked anywhere near his level, and they both still lost. Essentially, he’s unbelievably good.
Stan Wawrinka: 7/10 (Josh’s rating: 7/10) – W Berdych 1&1, L Djokovic 1&1, W Cilic 6-3,4-6,6-3
Semi-final L Federer 6-4, 5-7, 6-7
For the first 60 minutes of his tournament, Wawrinka looked invincible. Unfortunately for the next 60 he looked like an amateur. In many ways, this tournament sums up perfectly everything that is wonderful and everything that is wrong with Stan. The power, the glorious one-handed backhand and the improving forehand were all on show but so was the poor first serve percentage, lack of confidence on big points and the mental frailties that held him back for so long. He is both the most frustrating and the most encouraging member of tennis’ elite. He could be world number 1, he could win most of the slams but you get the feeling he won’t. The mere presence of Djokovic at the top will hinder his progress however this year he has beaten him, Nadal and Federer to prove that he can mix it with the very best. If London showed anything it’s that I believe he’s got another one or two slams in him, I’m just not sure if he believes it. That semi-final was his for the taking and he knows it.
Tomas Berdych: 4/10 (Josh’s rating: 3/10) – L Wawrinka 1&1, W Cilic 3&1, L Djokovic 2&2
The man I tipped for the final came incredibly close to getting there. I wish. How do I sum up this tournament for Berdych? It started with a selfie and ended with self-reflection of how he has blown another London opportunity. There is no doubt that Tomas is a very capable, reliable and consistent tennis player. Outside of the traditional big four, no active player has made more consecutive appearances at the year-end championships (Ferrer doesn’t count as he didn’t technically qualify this year) so there is clearly talent there. The problem lies in the fact he doesn’t seem to believe he can beat anyone ranked above him unless they are injured. Take this tournament for example; he should have at least started better against Wawrinka as that match decided who played Federer in the semi-final. I’m embarrassed I tipped him to reach the final, but due to his continued good humour and impressive victory over Cilic in the second match I’ll give him a 4.
Marin Cilic: 1/10 (Josh’s rating 3/10) – L Djokovic 1&1, L Berdych 3&1, L Wawrinka 3-6,6-4,3-6
Three matches, 1 set, 0 wins are not exactly the stats you want on your first appearance at a year-end championship, especially as the winner of the most recent slam. Even Gasquet won 2 sets last year. But, to be fair to Cilic, he played much better in the final match against Wawrinka and has missed a lot of tennis recently due to an injury so he wasn’t fully fit. As you’ll see at some point, I’ve not put Cilic in my top 10 for next year but having done that, I’ll be surprised if this is his last Tour Finals. He possesses the weapons to beat anyone on his day, and he will have got confidence from a fantastic year. He is still one for the future.
1. Federer (W: 3, L: 0)
2. Nishikori (W: 2, L: 1)
3. Murray (W: 1, L: 2)
4. Raonic/Ferrer (W: 0, L: 3)
Roger Federer 8/10 (Gareth 9/10) – vs. Raonic W 6-1, 7-6(0), Nishikori W 3+2, Murray W 1+0
Semi-final vs. Wawrinka W 4-6, 7-5, 7-6(6)
Final vs. Djokovic L walkover
It was a privilege to be present as this great champion rolled back the years in his opening match, a straight-sets dismissal of Raonic. Federer’s progress through the group stages was serene, as he played his best tennis in years. His demolition of Murray was the outstanding individual performance of the week. Afterwards, it was a bit less straightforward. He won an epic semi-final with Wawrinka, but had to save several match points, and at times was dominated by his compatriot. That match also saw him sustain the injury that ended his tournament and casts ongoing doubt over his body’s durability in big matches. Federer also became embroiled in a public spat with Wawrinka, which is probably the abiding memory of a lacklustre tournament. But despite the spat, and missing out on a final, we should still remember the great tennis that Federer played. Reaching the last 2 of the World Tour Finals for the 9th time is a phenomenal achievement, which may never again be paralleled.
Kei Nishikori 8/10 (Gareth 7/10) – vs. Murray W 4+4, Federer L 3+2, Ferrer W 4-6, 6-4, 6-1
Semi-final vs. Djokovic L 1-6, 6-3, 0-6
The first Asian man ever to play the World Tour Finals not only lived up to, but exceeded, all expectations. Even though he was the second-highest seeding in the group, most people probably expected a player of Andy Murray’s calibre to progress instead, especially as Nishikori often seemed to be struggling with a wrist injury. In the inaugural match of the tournament, Nishikori beat Murray in straight sets, irrespective of the bad wrist. He lost easily to an inspired Federer, but was then involved in two of the tournament’s best matches, as he beat Ferrer to guarantee his qualification, then pushed Djokovic to a final set in their semi-final. Winning that last match would have guaranteed him a 10/10 rating, but it was enough that Nishikori demonstrated convincingly that he belonged at this elite level, and possesses the steel to complement his superb ability. This was a triumph for Kei, just as reaching the semi-finals on debut was for Wawrinka last year. Stan went on to ride that high to the Australian Open title in January. Can Kei repeat the feat? My prediction, on Kei’s recent performances, is yes.
Andy Murray 4.5/10 (Gareth 4/10) – vs. Nishikori L 4+4, Raonic W 6-3, 7-5, Federer L 0+1
Given Federer’s status as strong favourite to win the group, it always seemed like Murray’s chances of qualification depended on beating Nishikori in his opening match. He lost in straight sets, essentially buffering his chances on the opening afternoon. Murray recovered to secure a solid win over Raonic but, needing a straight-sets win over Federer to revive his hopes, instead received the worst thrashing of his career. In his defeats, Murray looked too passive and not confident enough. He also won’t start beating the best players again until his first-serve percentage improves. But, in mitigation, Murray was probably exhausted following a grueling schedule to qualify for London. Nonetheless, he still played way below his ability level against his two main competitors. Hopefully this will prove to be a turning point to galvanise him into improvement. I’ve added a half point for his willingness to play an exhibition following Federer’s withdrawal, at short notice, for free.
Milos Raonic 5/10 (Gareth 1/10) – vs. Federer L 1-6, 6-7(0), Murray L 3-6, 5-7
It wasn’t the World Tour Finals debut Raonic had been hoping for; straight-sets defeats in both his matches, before having to withdraw through injury. Nonetheless, I believe Gareth’s ranking is excessively harsh. Raonic had a very tough introduction to this tournament, playing two world-class players who are both incredibly experienced at playing big matches. In the second set of both, Raonic settled and demonstrated his promise. He’s not quite Roger Federer yet, but he is a very good young player who will return to this event, and who will have learned from his experiences this time around. Besides, Raonic was hardly expected to progress from this group, and neither of his matches were as one-sided most of the alleged contests in Group A were.
David Ferrer 6/10 (Gareth 3/10) – vs. Nishikori L 6-4, 4-6, 1-6
Awarding a 6/10 for playing just one match, which he lost, may seem exceedingly generous (Gareth certainly thinks so), but I was very impressed with Ferrer’s contribution to this tournament. To put things into context, before he played Nishikori, every match had been over in straight sets, in less than an hour and a half. Ferrer put on a proper contest for us, taking the first set against the impressive Nishikori, before he unfortunately ran out of steam. The players in Group A could learn a lot from him about digging in against, and frustrating, a technically superior opponent. It should also be noted that Ferrer had an inflamed back, and came into his match at short notice. It’s likely that he’s now played his last match at the World Tour Finals, and if so, he can look back on his denouement with pride.
To summarise, it’s hard to get away from the fact that this tournament didn’t live up to expectations. The group stages were so tame compared to last year, with Djokovic, Del Potro and Federer all fighting to get out of one group. Even the 4th man, Gasquet, took 2 of his matches to close deciding sets. In the other, the quality might not have been so high, but Wawrinka ground out 2 deciding-set wins to make the semi-finals, and Berdych even breadsticked Nadal before succumbing to defeat. By contrast, only 2 of the group matches this year even went to a third set. Qualification was essentially decided on the first day, when Nishikori and Wawrinka beat Murray and Berdych in straight sets respectively. Plenty of theories have been posited to explain this, from the surface of the courts (not credible, it’s the same surface that was used last year, and is used in plenty of other tournaments) to fatigue following frantic end-of-season attempts to qualify for London (more credible).
It’s probably fitting, therefore, that Djokovic won the tournament by walkover, as he walked over all his opponents in the group stages. For the first time in ATP World Tour Finals history, there was in fact no final. Nonetheless, I wouldn’t write the week off as a total failure. The semi-finals offered us a tantalizing glimpse of what might have been, with two high-quality, competitive matches. Federer-Wawrinka might even go down as an epic.
Moreover, we’ve done this review through the lens of looking at individuals, and this is where things get compelling, as we search for insights into 2015. Djokovic and Federer both looked close to their absolute, awesome, best – if this continues into next year, we’re all in for a treat, even though it’s such a shame that they weren’t able to play each other this time. Djokovic won this title for the fourth time overall, and the third time consecutively, which is an awesome feat. Wawrinka shook off his dip in form, although familiar frailties prevented him from going all the way. Cilic and Raonic were chastened by the demands of competing at the highest level, although both should learn and come back stronger given the level of their talent and dedication. Berdych and Murray need some rest, and contemplation of how they can make better use of their undoubted talents. And, saving the best story until last, the week has convinced us regarding the full extent of Kei Nishikori’s talents. Nishikori is such an unlikely tennis champion – in this era of increased physicality in sport, he is slim and 5’10, whilst coming from Japan, a country never previously known as a tennis hotbed. But it’s because Nishikori is such an unlikely star is why his emergence is so wonderful. If this week has provided a launchpad for his rise to stardom, then perhaps it wasn’t such an anticlimax after all.