Just a few hours ago, World No. 2 Novak Djokovic lifted the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals trophy for the second consecutive year, marking the official conclusion of a sensational 2013 ATP season that featured an array of memorable moments for several top competitors. The year-end championships brought together the top eight players in the world for a ‘season finale’ to crown the final champion of the year. The entrants competing for the title in this year’s field were Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer, Juan Martin del Potro, Roger Federer, Tomas Berdych, Stanislas Wawrinka and Richard Gasquet with the only missing component being World No. 4 Andy Murray, who was sidelined due to minor back surgery.
Expectations were high for this year’s championships, as all eight of the competitors appeared to be in form as they made the final eight of the Paris Masters a few days before arriving in London, making it evident that all the best players currently active on the tour were going to compete for the title. Many of the players were coming off strong successes over the previous weeks and were looking to carry the momentum forth at the Finals.
Before coming to London, David Ferrer reached his third ATP Tour final in as many weeks, when he defeated Rafael Nadal in the Paris Masters semis. While he did not leave victorious in any of those matches, he has managed to reach the World No. 3 ranking for the second time in two years, which was a fantastic achievement for the Spaniard. Sadly, he was unable to finish his season off on a positive note as he lost all three of his group stage matches to become the first of the eight competitors to be sent home. He would later admit that playing seven consecutive weeks on the tour was not his smartest decision and the fatigue he felt when he arrived in London cost him dearly. He will have an opportunity to vie for his lost points in the 2014 season.
Tomas Berdych came into the championships as the only one of the eight contestants to not win a single title in 2013. It marked a relatively poor year for the Czech native, who’s best performances have been in Davis Cup competition and not on the ATP tour. The World No. 7 went 1-2 in London, losing to Wawrinka and Nadal but toppling Ferrer. He had an opportunity to reach the semi-finals had he defeated Nadal but failed to do so and instead will get an opportunity to earn his second Davis Cup title next weekend.
Stanislas Wawrinka completed what he considered his “dream season” when he reached the semi-finals of the World Tour Finals in his debut at the event, and while he lost a lackluster contest to Djokovic, he will return home a happy and satisfied man. Wawrinka went 2-1 in the round robin stage, with wins over Tomas Berdych and David Ferrer. Having reached his first Grand Slam semi-final this year at the US Open and finishing the year at a career-high of No. 8, this has definitely been the Swiss’ best year on the tour.
Arguably the dark horse heading into the tournament, Juan Martin del Potro had toppled Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in the weeks leading up to the year-end championships and was expected to cause more difficulty for them in London but that was simply not the case. The 2009 runner-up won his opening contest against Richard Gasquet in a thrilling three-set contest but failed to carry forth the momentum and lost his next two matches to Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, which singalled his early exit from the tournament and brining his record to 7-8 at the World Tour Finals.
One of the main storylines in the post-US Open season was whether Roger Federer was going to qualify for this year’s showdown. That statement alone emphasizes the near-abysmal year the 17-time Grand Slam champion was facing up until the few weeks heading into the event. Following his second round exit from the Wimbledon Championships, and his fourth round exit from the US Open – his earliest since 2002 – Federer faced a difficult stretch of disappointing losses but managed to turn momentum in his favour in October, when he arrived in his hometown of Basel. There, Federer reached the finals before losing to del Potro for a second consecutive year. It was a competitive contest that signalled that the former No. 1 could possibly be retuning to form in the next few weeks. He followed this up by reaching the semi-finals in Paris, where he lost to Djokovic but simultaneously earned back the confidence from fans that he had lost over the season.
Arriving in London, there was a legitimate belief that Federer was capable of one last run to end his year on a positive note. It was a rough start though, as he would lose his opening match to the same man who defeated him just a few days prior: Novak Djokovic. The Swiss maestro would rebound with consecutive wins over Juan Martin del Potro and Richard Gasquet to advance to his 11th semi-finals at the event. There, he would meet his longtime rival, Rafael Nadal in what was expected to be a memorable contest between tow of tennis’s greatest ever. Sadly, the match failed to live up to its billing as Nadal stormed through the match in straight sets to set up a championship match with Novak Djokovic.
The final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal was a inevitable end to the ATP season: a battle between the two top players on the tour this year, vying for the final trophy of the year. Both men held undefeated streaks at the event heading into the final and had both won their semi-final contests in straight sets. While this was the case, momentum appeared to be with Djokovic as he looked sublime in all of his matches and was riding the third longest winning streak of his career with 21 straight wins following his US Open loss. Considering he had lost many of the big matches he played this season, including the finals of Wimbledon and the US Open, there was a much needed urgency for Djokovic to secure the title and remain in line to regain his No. 1 ranking in the upcoming season. He also held the better hard court record and had toppled Nadal in their most recent meeting in China.
For Nadal, this was an opportunity to clinch the only major title missing from his cabinet of trophies. In what was arguably the greatest comeback season in tennis history, Rafa had won two of the four Grand Slam titles, five Masters 1000 titles and won over $12 million in prize money, all after missing the first couple of months on the tour. He was hoping to end his season with the best possible result but the Serbian No.1 had different ideas and thoroughly outclassed the Spaniard in the final, closing out the year with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over the man who usurped the title from him.
The conclusion of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals brings about hopes and expectations for several of the top players. Will Djokovic carry forth his winning streak into the next season to regain the top ranking? Can Nadal continue to dominate the tour and maintain his exceptionally high level of play in 2014? Will Roger Federer return to the form that millions of fans remember fondly and win the “five titles” he has set for himself as a goal next year? Considering how things have drastically changed over the past year, it will be interesting to trace the trajectory of these elite competitors in the upcoming year.