Nitto ATP Finals 2017: Tournament preview
From Roger Federer conquering Melbourne and Wimbledon, Rafael Nadal making history on his beloved clay and shining in New York to Jack Sock almost taking Paris by storm, there have been many surprise treats in the year 2017. While the season undoubtedly was all about the Swiss great, Federer and the Spanish matador Nadal, there have been significant others too who have made a lasting impression and booked their spots in the season-ending extravaganza, the Nitto ATP Finals to be held at the O2 Arena in London from the 12th of November.
The ATP World Tour Finals, scheduled to commence on Sunday, will feature the world's top eight men’s players.
Six-time champion and World No. 2 Federer along with World No. 1 Nadal will be the top two seeds of the tournament. Joining them are debutants Alexander Zverev of Germany, Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, David Goffin of Belgium and Jack Sock of the United States. Austria's Dominic Thiem and Marin Cilic from Croatia complete the elite eight.
These eight players are split into two groups of four with the top two qualifying for the knockout stages.
Here is what you should know about the groups:
Group Pete Sampras
This group comprises the top seed and World No. 1 Nadal along with Thiem, Dimitrov and Goffin.
Head to head records of players in this group:
Nadal 5-2 Thiem
Nadal 10-1 Dimitrov
Nadal 2-0 Goffin
Thiem 2-1 Dimitrov
Thiem 3-6 Goffin
Dimitrov 3-1 Goffin
Analysing this group, it is a daunting task to predict whether Nadal can make a breakthrough given the knee issue that has been playing spoilsport. After withdrawing from Paris, the top seed has been very unsure of his participation in London. In the latest update though, coach Carlos Moya confirmed that the Spaniard would feature in the tournament, putting to an all speculation. It will be Rafa's best chance to win the elusive title; his best performances in the past have been runner-up finishes to Roger Federer in 2010 and Novak Djokovic in 2013.
The Spaniard has been basking in a remarkable season of resurgence, adding to his Grand Slam titles at the U.S. Open and Roland Garros, along with reaching the Australian Open final and returning to the World No. 1 ranking.
Only time will tell though if his knee holds up. He enjoys a combined 17-3 record against the other players in his group. On the other hand, one cannot be surprised if a semi-final appearance is on the cards for the Bulgarian, Dimitrov, who is known for his attacking, aggressive tennis.
Dimitrov’s head-to-head against Nadal is a dampener at 1-10, but he’s managed to stretch the World No. 1 in all three of their previous encounters so far in 2017. Should Grigor take advantage of the ailing Nadal, things can turn out to be pretty interesting in this group.
Against Thiem, Dimitrov has a losing record (2-1), but the Austrian's form has dwindled over the past few months, winning just two matches in his last five events. Thiem does not look in any shape to be able to create dents in this otherwise solid group's landscape. He trails Nadal 2-5 and Goffin 3-7 in the overall head-to-head and it will take a Herculean effort for Thiem to make a mark in London.
With a healthy 6-1 against Goffin, it will be interesting to watch if Dimitrov can go all the way to the semi-final.
Goffin has not been very impressive since his second title of the season, in Tokyo. This was evident in his loss to Stefanos Tsitsipas in Antwerp, Gilles Simon in Shanghai and Julien Benneteau in Paris. The injury scares for the Belgian could also be of concern in his debut at the ATP Finals. Hence, unless Thiem finds some magic, Nadal will come out on top provided his knee is kind to him.
Group Boris Becker
Group Becker is made up of the World No. 2 Federer, young rising star, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic and surprise entrant, Jack Sock.
Head-to-head records of the players in this group:
Federer 2-2 Zverev
Federer 7-1 Cilic
Federer 3-0 Sock
Zverev 3-1 Cilic
Zverev 1-1 Sock
Cilic 0-2 Sock
It goes without saying that the Swiss Ace is deservingly the favourite for this title. Six times a champion at the World Tour Finals, Federer has made appearances in the final three of the past four years he’s played the event. He has not won the ATP Finals since 2011, but it is important to note that he has lost only four matches in 2017.
Federer enjoys a combined 12-3 against the rest of his group. Zverev and Sock are making their first-ever appearances in London and it would be a little tough for them to compete against the World No. 2 who looks in supreme form. Injury scares have not spared Federer either. He decided to sit out of Bercy last week due to a back issue in order to be fully fit for London.
The most promising player to watch out for in this group will be Zverev. He defeated Federer in Montreal in August. The young German has carved a niche for himself, with two Masters 1000 Series titles in 2017. Since the Canada Masters title, Zverev has mainly lost to top players which shows that he has the hunger and potential to fight. His last four defeats have been at the hands of Juan Martin del Potro, Nick Kyrgios, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Robin Haase.
Zverev has a good 3-1 record against Cilic and 1-1 against Sock. I am not sure how much to expect from Sock. His surprise entry into the ATP Finals was something that swept the headlines in Paris last week. He looks in raging form, but it remains to be seen if the powerful American can make some noise in his debut in London.
For Cilic, this is his third appearance at the World Tour Finals, having featured in 2014 and 2016. Cilic has made the semifinals in three of the last four tournaments he’s played. However, a poor H2H against Federer (1-7) is an issue he needs to address. If at all he is planning on making the semi-finals in London, he will need to find ways to take down Zverev and Sock, both of whom he possesses losing records against. Cilic has lost his last three matches against Zverev, but since the German and Sock too are featuring in the tournament for the first time, it may make things a bit easier for the Croat.
Regardless of who goes on to claim the title, rest assured it's going to be a mouthwatering, action-packed week for tennis fans in London.