Originally posted at Ubitennis.com (full article below)
Tennis indoors has always seemed like an anomaly and it’s never more so than in a city known for the traditional hallowed greens of Wimbledon. Yet, London has successfully transformed itself into a rock and roll spectacle yet again for the Barclay’s World Tour Finals. Fashioned as a raucous party with players entering the arena with smoke, spotlights and music, the Finals aims to incite the most boisterous responses from spectators; this is a celebration of the top 8 singles and doubles pairs on the ATP Tour for the year. While being crowned the winner will be a feather in the cap for the final singles’ player and doubles’ team left standing on Monday, November 17th, it’s clear that for many of the players just getting here is already the highlight and achievement of their year.
Conveniently accessed by London’s Jubilee Line and river taxi services, the O2 gives spectators a one stop shop for tennis viewing. This year, the tournament premiered The Final 8 App offering the latest news, match analysis, player group standings and scenarios, as well as player practice schedules. With proper planning, you can make a full day of it at the O2 and many have and do. After watching the Ferrer vs. Wawrinka match on Friday, I stopped by Café Rouge for a drink. Whilst there, I struck up a conversation with a woman who like me had been coming to the World Tour Finals since 2009. Surprisingly, she had never been to Wimbledon but the ease and accessibility of the World Tour Finals made it the best value for her money for tennis in London. Over the course of three days, she had seen all of the matches in both singles and doubles, many of the top 8 on the practice courts and sampled the variety of foods on offer within the O2. If Andy Murray had been able to attend, she would have been one of the many fans who line up at the river taxi entrance to get a picture and autograph from their favorite players. For her and me, the World Tour Finals at the O2 is a chance to see players who have distinguished themselves all year, if not within the tournament.
It is in this spirit that one should approach and enjoy the tennis at the O2 Arena. While the format of having the top 8 players compete against each other would suggest that each battle will be a compelling affair, few live up to that billing. Thus far, I’ve had 2 ½ days of tennis at The Finals and I’ve seen five singles matches and only two have lived up to the promise of the best squaring off against each other: Federer vs Djokovic because of its dramatic and tense atmosphere and Wawrinka vs Nadal because of the shot-making. Much of that has to do with how the groups are set up in the very beginning. With Nadal, Ferrer, Wawrinka, and Berdych in Group A and Djokovic, Federer, del Potro, and Gasquet in Group B, it was fairly clear that the storyline for each group rested on its weakest link. What surprise could Berdych and a potentially weary Ferrer offer? How would Gasquet fare amongst the more storied players from his group? The quick answer to each is none and not very well, respectively.
Given Nadal’s performance upon his return to the tour, his dominant head to head with all members of his group and his conquering of traditionally challenging surfaces like hard, the indoors seemed primed to be the next surface for his triumph. He delivered by winning all of his round robin matches and winning his group. He also succeeded in confirming Wawrinka’s place at 2nd in the group with his three set win over Berdych on Friday night. In many ways, the question of who would be second proved to be the most dramatic aspect of Group A. It’s fitting that Wawrinka should take the second spot as he has played the most exuberant tennis under the roof at the O2 thus far. Playing in his very first World Tour Finals, Wawrinka has played high risk and occasionally nervy tennis but he delivered much of the excitement that could be found within Group A.
In Group B, Gasquet’s performance was the open question. To date, he has not proven to be the spoiler that his first of set of tennis on Monday night versus del Potro suggested was possible. He has another opportunity tonight as he takes on the already confirmed semi-finalist, Djokovic, in a no-risk, no stakes match. Might that be the environment to allow him to challenge Djokovic? One can only hope. Like Wawrinka, Gasquet is one of the surprise additions to the 8-men Finals line-up and could have caused a ruckus in his group. Since Federer was having his worst season in memory and showed up and down form in his first match against Djokovic on Tuesday night, one could have anticipated an opportunity for the Gasquet vs Federer encounter to be a potential blockbuster. However, that match proved to be a non-starter both in quality and tone. Thus, it’s fitting that the two men, Federer and del Potro, who beat Gasquet and lost to Djokovic should determine their fate within the group by matching their skills against each other on Saturday afternoon. This match’s outcome seems the least predictable of all the pairings thus far. While head to head and a recent victory in Paris over del Potro favors Federer, del Potro was the victor in Basel a week earlier and his form has been consistently better than Federer for the past few months. In the end, it may just come down to experience under the blue lights of the O2.