By Samuel Soladoye
The 02 Arena in London is ready to host the big guns in the game of men’s singles tennis as the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals come to town from the 9th day of November to the 16th day of November, 2014. It promises great tennis as well as fascinating sights. The stage is set for the showdowns. I will gladly put you through those in Group B; Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic. It’s a mixture of experience and its opposite, at this stage, as Andy Murray (5) and Roger Federer (12) have a total of 17 tourney appearances between them while Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori are making their first appearances at the season-ending event; the men are pitched against the rookies. Experience is vital but it wouldn’t be apocalypse if we see a rookie rocking it like it is concert-time at the 02 Arena. The doors to the semis in the group are firmly held wide and ajar. Each of these players is in London due to his fortunes during a very long season. This article, in making a case for the chance of progression of each player, considers their season among other factors.
The Swiss enters the tournament for a record 13th straight year as the most successful man in the history of the tournament. He has won the crown at 02 a record six times (2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2010 & 2011). It is particularly more impressive when you get to know he has won five of those six without being beaten as he lost once on his route to the final in 2007; are we still talking tennis? In his 12 visits to the World Tour Finals, he has only failed on just two occasions (2002 and 2008) to make it out of the group stage. He has compiled a total of 44-11 as match record at the Tour finals. The 33-year old, though failed to win a major this year, enters the tourney with the best match record on tour this season with his 68-11 match record. It has been an impressively brilliant campaign for the father of four who has risen from a lowly World No. 8 to within reachable distance of the pinnacle of the ATP World tour rankings as he battles it all out with Novak Djokovic in the race to finish the year as No. 1. He has five titles to show for his successful season with triumphs at Dubai, Halle, Cincinnati, Basel and the hitherto elusive Shanghai Masters. The world No. 2 has only lost once in fifteen matches as his 14-match winning streak was snapped at the Paris Masters by Milos Raonic, a group opponent at this year’s tourney. Talking group opponents, the Swiss hold an advantageous 19-14 (11-11 against Andy Murray, 2-2 to Kei Nishikori and 6-1 against Milos Raonic) match record in total. He has however met Andy Murray thrice at the tourney and has got the better of the Brit on the three occasions. His last match before this tourney saw him lose out to Raonic, young Canadian for the first time in seven matches and he gets the chance to set things straight as he starts out against Raonic later on Sunday.
The saintly Federer, who was just awarded the ATP Fans’ Favourites for a record 12th straight year will be looking to use his charm on the London crowd once again; the charm which once got him their support over their very own Andy Murray in 2011. Federer is Federer and should all things remain equal, with his impressive indoors record, the trip to the semis should be as easy as the adventure to the net we have become used to in recent times.
The 24-year old Japanese is in London after a great season which sees him ranked No. 5 in the world. His qualification makes him the first Asian player to ever qualify for the Tour Finals. He boasts of a 52-12 match record this season with four titles this season for his tourney-conquests at Kuala Lumpur, Memphis, Barcelona and Tokyo. The Japanese made it to the finals of the US Open losing to Marin Cilic in straight sets. He starts out against Andy Murray against whom he has never won in three attempts. It must be mentioned though that their most recent meeting was at Brisbane in 2013 and the gap between both players has since being breached and if the rankings are to be put into consideration, the Scot is quite well behind Kei. He has a total match record of 6-6 against group opponents as he is tied with Federer on 2-2 and holds an impressive 4-1 record over Milos Raonic. It is up to the young gun to justify his place on the rankings when he takes to court in the first singles’ match of the tourney.
The 27-year old who missed out on this tournament due to a back surgery last year endured a frustrating season prior to the fall. He seems to be rediscovering the form that got him as high as world No. 2 and two grand slam titles. It is his 6th appearance at the Tour finals having made it five consecutive appearances before missing out on last year’s. His best result at the 02 Arena has been in the form of semi-final appearances in 2008, 2010 and 2012. Murray’s greatest challenge will be Roger Federer, whom he has lost to thrice at the 02 Arena and if he must conquer the Swiss maestro, he knows he needs the crowd. Since the US Open, he has compiled a massive 20-3 match record and has titles at Shenzhen, Valencia and Vienna to show for his efforts. His cumulative match record against group opponents is at a modest 15-14 as he is 11-11 against Federer, 3-0 against Kei Nishikori and 1-3 against Milos Raonic. Andy’s fine form must continue if he is to proceed from this group and his first match against Kei Nishikori, to me, presents him perfect opportunity to bag a win; it should be quite safer from there.
The young Canadian will be hoping his serving prowess will come in handy as he makes his debut at the Tour Finals. He is at the tournament after a career-best season with a match record of 48-18 and an ATP 500 tour title at Washington D.C. the 23-year old has little or nothing to lose and his experience here will be of great use in the promisingly future that looms ahead of him. He must however be ready and who says that “future” cannot start this week? The semi-finalist at Wimbledon will be hoping his deficit 5-11 cumulative record against his group opponents will be mere numbers. He starts out against the great Roger Federer and will be hoping to carry on from his giant-strangling win over the Swiss in Paris, the first and only win in 7 matches. Perhaps, another interesting point is the hold he has got over Andy Murray who he has bossed on three out of four meetings, a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 win at Indian Wells their most recent encounter. Against Kei Nishikori, he has won just once in 5 meetings and will need to improve if he is to make a mark at the season-ending show.
The stage is set and the men are raring to go. You might disagree as you have the right to but I believe it is just a matter of days before the men are separated from the lads; my picks for the semis are ROGER FEDERER and ANDY MURRAY but the young shall grow someday.
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