The ATP World Tour Finals kick off at London's O2 Arena on Sunday, with the world's top eight competing in round-robin play. No. 1 Novak Djokovic dominated the courts and headlines through the first two-thirds of the year before No. 3 Andy Murray and No. 4 Roger Federer took over. At No. 2, Rafael Nadal seems less imposing than he did one year ago, but of the top four, he'll be the best rested. Group A consists of Djokovic, Murray, No. 5 David Ferrer and No. 7 Tomas Berdych. Group B consists of Nadal, Federer, No. 6 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and No. 8 Mardy Fish. Here's a look at what's at stake for the eight contenders. — Richard Evans
Getty ImagesHarold Cunningham
Ten days is not long to get over a pulled hamstring, and it remains to be seen whether Fish is in good enough physical condition to make an impact in this exalted company. Mardy has had his best-ever year on tour and is thrilled to have made it this far so late in his career. His presence has saved America’s blushes because, for the first time in nine years, Andy Roddick has failed to fly the flag among the top eight. Who better to replace him than his friend and former high school teammate at Boca Prep? Fish has the talent to worry anybody in this field, but not on one leg.
If the tall Czech had just a little more flexibility in his game he would pose an even bigger threat than he does already. Berdych is one of the very few players to have broken the top four’s stranglehold on Grand Slam final showings over the past four years by reaching the Wimbledon final in 2010. He also showed what he was capable of by outlasting Murray in a three-hour marathon in Paris last week. The big serve and equally powerful forehand are special weapons indoors, and Murray won’t be thrilled to see him in his round-robin group. Self-belief has often been the missing ingredient for Berdych, but he may be poised to overcome that. One to watch.
The former Australian Open finalist had a great week in Paris, although he did not produce his best in the final against Federer. Nevertheless this big, bounding athlete is always a threat and will be a huge favorite with the fans who will pack the 17,000-capacity O2 Arena in London’s docklands, especially the considerable number who make their way across the Channel to support one of France’s most popular sports stars. Despite that win last Sunday, Federer will not relish seeing Tsonga in his round-robin group because he lost to him at Wimbledon and Cincinnati this year.
This tough battler, who is always snapping at the heel of the game’s ruling quartet, is no stranger to the ATP Finals. He reached the final in Shanghai in 2007, proving — just as he did in getting to the last four at the Masters 1000 event in Miami on two occasions — that he is far more than just a clay-court performer. Now, at the age of 29, he just seems to be getting better, but the ultimate breakthrough still eludes him. Federer has said that anyone can create a surprise this year because the top eight have been playing well. Ferrer is a top outsider.
AFP/Getty ImagesMARK RALSTON
Never write him off. A decline from his own pinnacle of success? Marginally. But, no one who saw him sweep through the field in Paris last week would suggest that there is much wrong with the maestro’s game. He’s moving better than he was at the start of the year, his forehand is flowing and his confidence is high. Yes, it was disappointing that he failed to win a Slam for the first time since 2003, but he won the ATP Finals last year and is convinced he can win this event — which he has won in places as far apart as Houston, Shanghai and London — for the sixth time.
The Scot is proud that his stellar run in Asia — winning titles in Bangkok, Tokyo and Shanghai — has lifted him past Federer to No. 3, but that will be of minor importance if he can pull out a title-winning performance in front of his British fans in what is regarded as the fifth most important event on the tour for the men. Murray played one of the great matches of 2010 in the semifinals against Nadal at the O2, and, despite losing to Tomas Berdych in Paris last week, his form and confidence is such that he definitely has a shot at reaching the final this time. Along with Federer, he is the best bet.
Getty ImagesMatthew Stockman
The Spaniard missed the BNP Parisbas Masters in Paris last week to give himself a breather before London and the Davis Cup final against Argentina. Will the rest give him an edge? He has avoided Djokovic — the man who has ruined his year by beating him in six finals — in the round-robin stage, but will have to contend with Roger Federer, who would have the edge on him indoors even if Federer wasn't in peak condition. Nadal was a finalist in London last year, and that may be the best he can hope for again this time.
Getty ImagesKoji Watanabe
If he could crown a remarkable year by winning the ATP World Finals, it would be his 11th title in 2011 — an incredible feat of endurance as well as talent and focus. However, the game’s physicality has taken its toll. It was a back problem that forced him to default a Davis Cup match after winning the US Open, and since then he has been troubled by a shoulder injury. He is in Andy Murray’s round-robin group, and it was the Scot who so nearly beat him in Rome. He will need to rediscover his fighting form immediately to win, and that seems unlikely given his physical condition.