The ATP World Tour Finals is the culmination of the tennis season as the final men’s event of the year. Though originally the event didn’t count in terms of a player’s rankings, it is now considered the biggest tournament outside of the four Majors and often determines the year-end No. 1 ranking.
Players qualify for the finals based on the cumulative amount of ranking points that they gain at each tournament they compete in throughout the season with the top eight men earning the right to compete at the event. A player could also qualify if they won a Grand Slam but finished inside the top 20.
For 2012, so far Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, and Tomas Berdych have already qualified based on previous results.Two spots remain with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Juan Martin Del Potro in the hunt along with Janko Tipsarevic, Nicolas Almagro and Richard Gasquet, one of whom could be accepted if Nadal, who is currently injured, decides not to play this year.
Two alternates are also selected, based again on their total ranking points results, and can be called on to compete during the week if one of the original eight selected is injured or unable to play.
Originally known as the Masters Grand Prix, the first event was held in 1970 as the final championship for the Grand Prix Tennis Circuit. Held in various cities, it then was hosted for 13 years at Madison Square Garden in New York before ending in 1989. When the ATP Tour as we know it now was born in 1990, the finals were renamed the ATP Tour World Championships and held in Frankfurt through 1995 and then in Hanover until 1999. In 2000, the event was changed to the Tennis Masters Cup that combined the ATP’s year-end event along with the ITF’s competing Grand Slam Cup tournament.
The Masters Cup was held in a variety of cities starting in 2000 at Lisbon then going on to Sydney, Houston, and Shanghai before settling at London in 2009 at the 02 Arena where the event was then rebranded as the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
Throughout its history, the event has seen a variety of men win the year-end title. Roger Federer holds the record for the most championships with six including last year. Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras are tied for second with five titles each while Ilie Nastase is third all-time with four titles that he won back in the 1970’s. In fact, Nastase still holds the highest winning percentage for all players at .885 with a 23-3 win/loss record that is just ahead of Federer’s .848 percentage based on a win/loss record of 39-7.
Lendl holds the record for making the most consecutive finals – nine in total from 1980 to 1988. It is also the record for the most finals reached for any player in the event’s history.
Andre Agassi leads all players in terms of most years qualified at a record 14 times with his last appearance being in 2003. Ivan Lendl is second with 12 trips to the finals followed by Boris Becker and Jimmy Connors who are tied at 11 appearances each.
Though primarily played indoors during most of its history, the event been held outdoors a few times, notably at Melbourne in 1974 and much later for several years at Houston from 2003 to 2004. The surface of choice has often been either carpet or indoor hard as it is today in London, but the finals were played on grass at Melbourne only once.
A player can receive up to 1500 ATP ranking points if they go undefeated during the event. Each round robin win earns a player 200 points, 400 for a semifinal win and 500 if they win the finals. Semifinalists are determined not only by their win/loss record during the round robin phase but also based on the greatest number of wins, greatest number of matches played and the highest percentage of games and sets won. Thus it is possible to have a losing record but still qualify for the semis based on overall results.
Only three players have won the event without losing a match — Michael Stich in 1993, Lleyton Hewitt in 2001 and Roger Federer in 2003, 2004, 2006, 2010, and 2011.
The event is notable for some outstanding matches in the sport’s history that is due to its unique round robin format. 2007 was the last year that the final match was contested in a best three out of five set format when Federer defeated David Ferrer in three sets. Since then, the finals are contested in a best two out of three match.
Boris Becker and Pete Sampras clashed in the 1996 finals that ended with Sampras winning 3-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(4), 6-7(11), 6-4 in a match considered one of the greatest of that decade.
2005 saw David Nalbandian stop Roger Federer 6–7(4), 6–7 (11), 6–2, 6–1, 7–6 (3) in the finals held that year in Shanghai in a match that many view as the Argentine’s best ever career performance.
In more recent history, the 2010 semifinal between Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal that the Spaniard won 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-6 (6) was deemed one of the best matches played that year.
Doubles is also an equal part of the ATP World Tour Finals. After having its own separate event for many years, the year-end doubles championships was combined with the singles event for the first time in 2003 at Houston with Bob and Mike Bryan winning in five sets over Michael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro.
Like the singles players, the eight doubles teams must qualify based on their results throughout the season that can also include winning a Grand Slam title so long as that team finishes in the top 20 of the ATP doubles rankings. The doubles event is also competed in a round robin format.
So far this year, six doubles teams have qualified including Bob and Mike Bryan and the Wimbledon champions Jonathan Marray and Frederik Nielsen.
Peter Fleming and John McEnroe hold the record for most year-end doubles titles with seven. Canada’s Daniel Nestor has won four times with multiple partners while Bob Bryan, Mike Bryan and Rick Leach have won three times.
This year’s ATP Finals will be held at London in the 02 Arena from November 5th through the 12th.