- Chris Wilkinson
Murray out to spoil Federer's partyChris Wilkinson November 17, 2011
All eyes are on London as the big names of men's tennis head to the O2 Arena for the ATP World Tour Finals - for many of the players, this event is second only to the grand slams. The year has undoubtedly belonged to Novak Djokovic, but for me Roger Federer is the man to watch as he bids to win a record sixth year-end title. He currently shares the record with Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras, but you can be sure he'll want that record for himself.
I was in Paris last week to see Federer first hand, and it was like watching the Federer of old - he was playing some quite brilliant tennis, and it looks like he is hitting form just in time for London.
He is only the second man after Andre Agassi to win in both Paris venues - on the clay at Roland Garros and indoors at Bercy. It was quite a story for him - having never even made the final before he finally got his hands on the trophy at the ninth attempt, and you could see from the way he was in tears, it still means so much to him.
The likes of Federer and Andy Murray are benefitting from not playing too much earlier in the season. Djokovic and Rafael Nadal may have the grand slam titles wrapped up, but they both seem to be struggling.
To me, it looks like it will be a Murray-Federer final - they're are the two best players in the world right now. Djokovic has the No. 1 ranking in the bag, and nobody can catch Nadal for the No. 2 spot, but Federer can regain the No. 3 spot in London, so it is all to play for. I really fancy Murray to win this year. His unbeaten streak may have come to an end in Paris, but he is in the form of his life and back on home soil. I really believe this could be his time, and a win in London could be the springboard to major success in 2012.
Nadal's absence, Murray's withdrawal and Djokovic's defeat in Basel, and then Djokovic's withdrawal and Murray's defeat in Paris meant Federer avoided playing any of the top three on his way to two titles in a fortnight, but judging by the way he swept Jo-Wilfried Tsonga aside in the final, I don't think he will be too worried. He is moving well, hitting the ball beautifully and looking supremely confident. Tsonga has had a couple of good wins against Federer this year, notably at Wimbledon, but he was never in the match. Tsonga looked a bit jaded from his semi-final against John Isner, and Federer came out all guns blazing.
It was Federer's 802nd victory on the tour - and the way he is playing you could see him carrying on for a good few years yet. We wouldn't have suspected this time last year that he would be playing in the same group as Nadal, but the draw has been made and Murray must be pretty pleased with that. Murray may be in the same group as world No. 1 Djokovic, but with the Serb in his current condition, Murray won't be too concerned. He has far too much firepower for David Ferrer, and will have revenge on his mind when he takes on Tomas Berdych, who ended his unbeaten run in Paris last week.
I was surprised that Djokovic decided to play in Bercy given his shoulder problems, but with a £1 million bonus up for grabs, you'd be tempted to play with one leg. He recovered from the same injury to win the US Open, but this time it looks more worrying. He may be the best player in the world, but I wouldn't back him to make it through the group stages. If he even survives all three round robin matches it will be an achievement. Let's just hope he at least holds out for Murray.
In Group B, Federer will be the man to beat, but Nadal is an unknown quantity. Federer is benefitting hugely from a few weeks off in October, and Nadal could be similarly reenergised - we haven't seen him since his surprise defeat to Florian Mayer in Shanghai.
I have to admit I'm baffled at the scheduling decisions by the ATP. Federer and Tsonga were the last players in action, and yet they are scheduled to open proceedings in London. But if that isn't strange enough, the decision to put home favourite Murray on court on Monday afternoon, when everyone will be at work, is bizarre. Murray won't worry about that too much. Ferrer is the ideal first match for him - while Ferrer has won all three meetings between the pair on clay, Murray has never lost on the hard courts. Ferrer didn't win a single match in London last year, and you'd expect Murray to walk through this opening match.
One thing you can guarantee though is that Ferrer will be fighting fit. The Spaniard is one of the fittest players on the tour and that could work to his advantage. With concerns for Djokovic, Nadal and Mardy Fish, it could be a case of last man standing. Fish hobbled out of Paris with a leg injury, but he himself has admitted he's just happy to be there.
Against his round robin opponents Federer, Nadal and Tsonga, Fish has just two wins from 16 matches. But for a player who was ranked outside the world's top 100 less than two years ago, to break into the top ten for the first time at the age of 29, it has been a remarkable year for Fish. His game is well suited to the indoor courts, and with Nadal up first on Sunday, he could spring a surprise if the Spaniard takes a while to get going.
Juan Martin del Potro and Andy Roddick will be two characters who will be sorely missed next week, but while you'd expect Del Potro to be back next year, I suspect we may never see Roddick in London again. The former world No. 1 is on the slide - he simply hasn't got the game to beat the best players anymore. His serve isn't what it was, and a player like Murray can dismantle him pretty quickly.
Fish's presence in London means it is the 25th straight year that there will be an American man in the ATP finals. Next year, I fancy John Isner will keep that streak going. He showed last week he has the game to challenge the top ten, and if he can find a bit more consistency he could be playing in London next year.
Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1