The eight best men’s tennis players – minus Rafael Nadal who has chosen to start preparing for 2017 rather than finishing a frustrating 2016 and Roger Federer who forfeited his chance of qualifying by packing it in after Wimbledon – are at the O2 Arena in London playing in the ATP World Tour Finals.
There’s an obvious exclusivity to the event – players have their own locker rooms, monogrammed towels and were given a personalized set of golf clubs – and a sense that every match features the elite of the game.
But there’s also a feeling that it’s the end of a long season and that some of the participants are resigned to their fates and looking forward to a well-earned break beginning next week. But the $179,000 (US) participation fee plus another $179,000 for each round-robin victory is certainly an incentive as well as the potential undefeated champion making a grand total of $2,391,000.
The contest for the year-end No. 1 ranking is the most salient feature of the 2016 Tour Finals with Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic as the contenders. Simply put, whoever goes further in the event will end up as No. 1 – Murray for the first time or Djokovic for the fifth time in six years.
A notch down from the dominant duo of the men’s game is the race for the year-end No. 3 spot, with Milos Raonic currently in the pole position.
Here are the third, fourth and fifth place standings after the first two days (opening round of the round-robin format) of the Tour Finals:
3. Milos Raonic 5,250
4. Stan Wawrinka 5,115
5. Kei Nishikori 4,905
Raonic has talked about how he is aiming for No. 3, and he’s in a good position as long as he remains fit. He’s in the seemingly easier group. As world No. 4, he was drawn into a group with No. 2 Djokovic, No. 6 Gael Monfils and No. 9 Dominic Thiem. Monfils has been injured (oblique) and, after losing 6-3, 6-4 to Raonic on Sunday, was asked how he could have done better and replied, “have one more week of practice.”
Thiem won four tournaments (Buenos Aires, Acapulco, Nice and Stuttgart) before the middle of June but none since and has been an unimpressive 2-4 at his last four events heading into London.
The group is tailor-made for Djokovic, who defeated Thiem 6-7(10), 6-0, 6-2 on Sunday. He has a cumulative 23-0 record against the other players – 7-0 vs. Raonic, 13-0 vs. Monfils and 3-0 vs. Thiem.
On Tuesday evening in London (3 p.m. ET in Canada on TSN4), he faces Raonic with the winner almost assured of a place in the semifinals.
In the other group, headed by No. 1 Murray, are No. 3 Stan Wawrinka, who looked subpar in a 6-2, 6-3 loss to Kei Nishikori on Monday, No. 5 Nishikori and No. 7 Marin Cilic.
Wawrinka had extensive kinesio tape on his left knee and said after his loss Monday, “I was hesitating a lot with my game, with my movement.”
Raonic, who had to pull out of the BNP Paribas Masters’ semifinals in Paris 10 days ago with a right quadriceps tear that he claimed could take “five to 10 days” to heal, looked good in his straight-sets win over Monfils. “It’s significantly improving, I think it’s behind me,” he said about the quad injury following his opening-match victory on Sunday. “I think about it and I worry about it sometimes. But I’m able to play quite freely and move quite well. Obviously today’s performance shows that.”
Sunday’s win was his first at the Tour Finals after losses to Federer, Murray and an injury withdrawal (quad tear) against Nishikori in his only other participation in 2014.
His match Tuesday with Djokovic will be the ultimate test. But even if he loses it he would be favoured to beat Thiem on Thursday to probably get a semifinal spot. That would almost surely be enough to sew up the No. 3 ranking for 2016 – unless Nishikori or Wawrinka makes it to the final and he loses in the semifinals.
The No. 3 ranking to end 2016 would be a nice reward for Raonic – especially after a year that began with the disappointment of that adductor injury that basically scuttled his chances of winning a thrilling and high-quality semifinal against Murray at the Australian Open.
Grigor’s excellent adventure
Two weeks ago after he lost in the doubles quarter-finals at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris, Grigor Dimitrov walked off the court and toward the locker room.
He had a relaxed grin on his face as he went past a woman he knew who worked at the tournament and a journalist that he didn’t know. “The season’s over,” Dimitrov said happily, smiling at the woman and then tapping the journalist on the arm.
Last week, just a few days later, it was learned that the 25-year-old is on a safari in South Africa.
The current world No. 17 sent out terrific pictures of giraffes, lions and a rhinoceros and appeared to be having a great time as the photo above indicates.
Once promoted as the player most likely to be the next Roger Federer, Dimitrov has ranked as high as No. 8 (August, 2014). Recently he has bounced back from a dramatic loss of form that saw him dip as low as No. 40 in July.
He first appeared in the rankings as a 16-year-old in November, 2007, and since that time the highly-hyped Bulgarian has spent a grand total of just eight weeks – in 2014 – with a single-digit ATP ranking.
In hindsight, it’s interesting to look back at a piece that was written in the French sporting daily L’Equipe during French Open in June, 2013. Known for having among the most knowledgeable tennis writers in the world, L’Equipe did a projection about who would be in the top-10 in the rankings five years down the road. We are now three and a half years down that road and here’s what the L’Equipe reporters suggested, even down to ranking points, might be 2018’s top-10 (player’s current ranking in brackets).
- 1. Grigor Dimitrov 7,775 (17)
- 2. Benoit Paire 6,415 (47)
- 3. Andy Murray 6,205 (1)
- 4. Milos Raonic 5,830 (4)
- 5. Novak Djokovic 4,795 (2)
- 6. Kei Nishikori 3,950 (5)
- 7. Bernard Tomic 3,430 (26)
- 8. Ernests Gulbis 3,170 (154)
- 9. Jerzy Janowicz 3,095 (279)
- 10. Jack Sock 3,065 (23)
The chances for Gulbis and Janowicz look improbable, even though injury has played a part in their lack of success. But on the whole L’Equipe isn’t that far off. Whenever journalists make predictions like these it behoves them to err on the side of taking chances. It would have been easy to place Djokovic or Murray still at the head of the list, as they very well could be in 18 months, but it makes for a more compelling story if those making the picks are willing to go out on a limb.
The bottom line, if one looks at the top of the projected 2018 rankings, is that Dimitrov is highly unlikely to be No. 1. And the same goes even more so for Paire at No. 2.
Neither Dimitrov nor Paire have the shown the commitment and focus of a Raonic or a Nishikori who are still in the running to make it to the summit of the rankings by June, 2018, or in the years thereafter.
As tennis commentator Robbie Koenig remarked earlier this week during a broadcast of the ATP World Tour Finals, “work beats talent if talent doesn’t work.”
While in New York last week doing promotional work for one of her sponsors – Colgate – Genie Bouchard spoke with Jamie Lisanti subbing for Jon Wertheim on the weekly SI.com podcast.
There was nothing too earth-shattering HERE except maybe what Bouchard said about when she played her best tennis in 2016.
Happy it's the weekend?
Gael Monfils is too!https://t.co/NMU1V1jsit pic.twitter.com/NcdD9UvBl7
— Eurosport UK (@Eurosport_UK) November 12, 2016
Gael Monfils is tennis’ ultimate showman. Here he displays more of his talent doing things with a ball and racquet that are out of the ordinary.
From the vault
Since he began coaching Andy Murray in 2012, Ivan Lendl has gotten a reputation for being stone-faced and expressionless sitting in the courtside seats at tournaments.
Here’s an ad from 1988 that shows this is nothing new for the eight-time Grand Slam winner, a man who held the ATP’s No. 1 ranking for 270 weeks between 1983 and 1990.
Top photo: Peter Staples/ATP World Tour