The 2018 ATP World Tour Finals kicks off on Sunday afternoon, with 8 of the top 10 players in the world involved. Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin Del Potro will be unable to compete, the former withdrawing this past week with an ankle injury. Defending champion Grigor Dimitrov will not be defending his title due to a poor year seeing him ranked outside the top 10. Paris champion Karen Khachanov will be looking on eagerly as first alternate, a spot earned after his Paris Masters title. As usual, the format will be a round robin of 2 groups of 4, splitting into a semi finals and final from there.
Group Guga Kuerten – Novak Djokovic, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, John Isner
The second half of the year has confirmed that Novak Djokovic is truly back and has taken his spot as the best player in the game once more, adding two more slams and two more Masters 1000 titles on his way back to the No.1 spot in the ATP rankings. He has to be considered the heavy favourite to advance from this group and win it all, especially given his win just last week over the likely winner of the other group – Roger Federer. Djokovic won four straight in London from 2012 to 2015 with his total of 5 titles just one off Federer’s 6.
While he is a combined 24-4 against Cilic and Isner, Djokovic’s has gone 1-1 with Zverev in their two meetings with a dominant win in Shanghai recently for the Serbian. Zverev has performed far better in the best of three format and is probably the best pick for second in the group although he will be disappointed with his two losses indoors recently. The loss to Khachanov in Paris doesn’t look so bad in hindsight but losing to Marius Copil in the Basel semi finals came as a major shock. At 5-1 and 4-1 against Cilic and Isner respectively, he will be fancying his chances of advancing regardless of the result against Djokovic.
Isner will be making his World Tour Finals debut this year, squeezing in as a result of the two aforementioned withdrawals. Despite his booming serve, he has never really thrived indoors – whether the courts are fast or not. With negative head to heads against all three opponents, he has to be placed as the most likely to finish last in the group. He had a good second half of the year with a semi final and a quarter final at the two final slams, helping him into the event. His Masters 1000 title in Indian Wells was the first of his career but he has been otherwise disappointing in those tournaments this year with a whole host of early exits.
It feels like Cilic’s game would be suited to the conditions at the O2 but he has struggled in his first two years there. He has won just 1 of the 6 matches he has played there, going 0-3 against Federer, Zverev and Sock last year. The Croatian is now established as one of top second tier players now and can be found at the deep end of tournaments with regularity although he has just one title to his name this year. That did also come in London at the Queens Club and included a victory in the final over Novak Djokovic. Unfortunately for him, there will not be a grass court laid down this time round so pushing that head to head to 3-16 may be a tough ask.
Prediction – 1 Novak Djokovic 2 Alexander Zverev
Group Lleyton Hewitt – Roger Federer, Kevin Anderson, Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori
Roger Federer is the record holder at this event with 6 titles and will be hoping to pick up a seventh at the expense of Novak Djokovic, who seeks to tie him in this regard. He is currently ranked No.3 in the world but can wrestle the second spot back from Nadal if he wins the event with an unbeaten record in the round robin. An Australian Open title looked to be setting the tone for another dominant year from Federer but there will be a number of disappointments for him by his extraordinarily high standards. He only picked up a quarter final and a fourth round at Wimbledon and the US Open while he failed to win a Masters 1000 – losing two finals in the process. Despite this, he remains the favourite to win this group even though he does not hold a winning head to head over all three of his group members.
Dominic Thiem is the one with a winning record over Federer although none of those have came indoors. Thiem continues to look outstanding on clay but is definitely beatable on hard courts, indoors and outdoors. While he has a St Petersburg title this year, he had found it somewhat difficult indoors in the past. A semi final in Paris may suggest things are improving although he was overwhelmed by an inspired Karen Khachanov performance on that occasion – adding to a 3 and 1 Vienna loss to Nishikori the previous week.
At No.6 in the world, Kevin Anderson found him comfortably inside the qualifying boundaries for this event. He has improved his game a lot to help out his booming serve and was rewarded with another grand slam final this year, losing at Wimbledon to Novak Djokovic. He will be boosted by a Vienna indoors title that should fill him with confidence coming into this event. However, that win over Nishikori in the final was avenged the very next week in Paris – where the Japanese won comfortably. Add his 6-2 record over Thiem and than stunning Federer win at Wimbledon and you have someone who won’t be shy coming into tournament although it would be a bit of a surprise were he to qualify.
It has been a big year for Kei Nishikori who came from outside the top 20 to qualify for this event again. He began 2018 after a long injury layoff and has eventually worked himself back into the top 10 with sheer consistency – his one title this year was a Challenger early in his comeback. His semi final at the US Open was one of his top performances while he has a number of finals including Monte Carlo and more recently, Vienna. With winning records over Anderson and Thiem, he will fancy his chances of progression. He plays Federer first though, likely leaving him with an 0-1 spot to begin the group which may hinder his chances of progression come the third and final match.
Prediction – 1 Roger Federer 2 Kei Nishikori
Finals Prediction – Novak Djokovic beats Roger Federer