We caught up with Times of London tennis writer Neil Harman to preview the ATP World Tour finals, which start on Sunday in London. Here are his thoughts about the event and a look at all the players in the field, who we will see this March at the BNP Paribas Open.
Talk a little about the ATP World Tour Finals being held in London.
I think what astonished everyone last year, the first year it was held here, was the incredible ticket sales. We know that Wimbledon gets great attendance, and that Britain has a solid base of tennis fans, but the arena isn’t the easiest to get to, so the astronomical turnout was truly impressive.
Another interesting aspect was the wide variety of fans. It was clear that the event was drawing a diverse crowd and that spoke volumes about the interest in it. I don’t see any reason that the turnout will be any less impressive this year and that is exciting.
The venue itself is terrific. Last year they raised the court a little bit, so it had almost a theater feel, and I think the players really enjoyed it, especially doubles players. They often don’t have the biggest crowds, and suddenly they are regularly playing in front of 15,000 people.
Let’s look at the singles field and give me your thoughts on the players and their chances to win the event.
Andy Roddick – Roddick is coming in healthy this year, which wasn’t the case last year. He still made an appearance, to promote the event, which tells you something about him. He is a great ambassador for the sport, and his passion is palpable. It’s pretty incredible that he has qualified for the eighth consecutive year. The only players that have done are Ivan Lendl, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, so that is some solid company. It shows you how much consistency he has delivered over the years. Like everyone here, he has a shot to win, and he is clearly capable, but I think it would be a pretty incredible accomplishment for him to win this event. His serve is still an incredible weapon, and if his game starts to click, he could make it out of the Round Robin.
Tomas Berdych – Here is a guy that had a great first half reaching the semifinals of the French Open and then the final at Wimbledon where he lost to Nadal. But, then his second half he just disappeared. Everyone agrees he has great talent, but he’ll have to turn his game around in order to make it out of the Round Robin.
David Ferrer – Intense. Athletic. He makes you work for a win against him. If you do beat him, you will have to leave it all on court, and that is IF you beat him. He has had a very quiet but steady year, and has played well this fall reaching the final in Beijing and winning last weekend in Valencia. Even though that win was on clay, he is definitely a quiet threat that no one will want to take likely.
Andy Murray – The hometown favorite will obviously have the crowd on his side, but there will also be pressure on him to win. He won at Queens earlier this year, his first big win in the UK, but this win would clearly trump that. There are some doubters out there, although I am not one of them, but a win would silence a lot of those critics. He has played some splendid tennis this fall, and his win in Shanghai just a few weeks ago was a dominating performance. A win in London would set the tone for the coming 2011 season, and it could catapult him to his first major in Australia. I think he is right on the brink of that, and a win here seems entirely possible.
Robin Soderling – Pure Power, but with a healthy dose of accuracy mixed in. He just won last week in Paris, so clearly his game is rock solid right now. He has beat Nadal, beat Federer in big matches, so he has added fearlessness and confidence over the last year that might have been missing in the past. His coach Magnus Norman deserves a lot of credit for shaping him into the player he is today. No question he has a very good chance to win this event, which would be the biggest of his career.
Novak Djokovic – The big question here is whether or not he already has his eye on the Davis Cup final, which will come on the heels of this event in Serbia. I think that he clearly would like to win, but a win in the Davis Cup final would likely mean more to him and to his country. But, just when I think he might be thinking that, he’ll prove me wrong and go deep in this event. Still, it’s hard to see him expending the energy necessary to win this event, when he has a monumental weekend looming around the corner.
Roger Federer – In ways, I think a win here could benefit him as much as any of the players. I think it would mean the most to Murray, but Federer could use to end the year on a very positive note. He just won in Basel, which had a strong field, but giving up five match points to Gael Monfils last week in Paris was just so un-Roger-like. He has given away four matches this year when he had match point, and that was something unthinkable even a year ago. A win here, defeating the best eight players in the world would certainly leave a mark and remind people he that he is still a force to be reckoned with. Not that we should think otherwise of the Greatest Player of All Time.
Rafael Nadal – Finally, the player who has had an incredible year winning the last three Grand Slams, and completing the career Grand Slam. The only question out there is his fitness, as he hasn’t played in three weeks. But, knowing Rafa, it probably means he will come in fresh and ready to bash the competition into submission. If he wins here, and I easily can see that happening, he will be poised to pick off the Australian Open and complete the Grand Slam. It might not be a calendar slam, but he will hold all four major trophies at once. And, if he does that, it is doesn’t take too much imagination to think that he could win all four Grand Slams in 2011, making it seven in a row. That would be simply incredible. We are witnessing a very special time in tennis, between Roger setting the all-time Grand Slam mark, with Nadal nipping at his heals, and then the likes of Djokovic, Murray, and all these other fantastic players, it truly is a memorable time to be watching tennis.