Thursday, 19 November 2009

WTF: Eight questions

By now everyone who’s anyone will be aware of Roddick’s decision to forgo the festivities in South East London this year. Step forward Big Rob, name-and-number.

murrayWTFDraw (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

I love the concept of the best eight players of the year pulling out all the stops in an Armageddon like ruckus to cap off perhaps the strangest year of tennis in, well, years.

With the calendar being what it is though, the event seems doomed to being perceived as an anti-climactic exhibition that only approximates ‘the cream of the crop’ in the loosest sense of the phrase - less of a crescendo than a glib winding up of a season that deserved so much more.

Is too much tennis really at the heart of the problem? After all, the event’s nearly 40 years old and I don’t remember injuries and burn out being as big an issue even four years back.

Here’s what I think. Certain players have reached, or are approaching, the limits of what I call ‘tennis viability’ as a result of either how long they’ve been on tour, or of the way they play. Something’s got to give.

8 questions for eight 8 players.

Group A

Will Roger Federer finish the year ranked world #1?

Do I even care after the year he’s had? I know it goes down in the history books, but let’s just say I’m mildly horrified by how much speculation and controversy this question has caused.

For what it’s worth, I think he will. Nadal is as out of sorts as I’ve perhaps ever seen him uninjured. He’ll need to pull off a near miracle to be in with a fighting chance. I know Rafa’s conjured up miracles in the past, but experience suggests the end of the season’s not that best place to begin searching for them.

As for the WTF I expect Federer to give a great account of himself even if he doesn’t go on to win the whole thing. There’s no reason to suppose he’s not capable of playing at least as well as Djoko has been these last two weeks.

Will Andy Murray benefit from the home advantage?

I should bloody well hope so. But after what happened at Wimbledon I’m not nearly as sure as I once was.

Brits are quite a cynical bunch, not given over to displays of emotion at the best of times, and if you know anything about how unglamorous South East London is, or the history of the failed Millenium Dome, now known as the O2 Arena, you’ll understand why one might be forgiven for thinking the portents don’t look particularly good.

My theory about Murray is that he’s near incapable of performing at the height of his powers for two consecutive weeks. After winning Valencia without so much as trickling a sweat bead, he bowed out early in Paris.

Which means he should be good to go, right about now.

He’s had nearly two weeks to recover, and Federer’s set the scene nicely with some wonderfully colourful trash talk.

So WHY TF should he not do well at the WTF?

Can Juan Martin Del Potro follow up on his very flashy Flushing performance?

I’d like to think so but I doubt it will be at London.

I think he’s more or less burnt himself out physically and mentally as is evident by the fact that he’s retired with injury in the last two Masters events. It’ll likely be next year before we see him at his best again.

Why do I get the feeling not being able to give it his all, after a year that saw him defeat Fed in the final of a Grand Slam, won’t bother him in the slightest?

What now for Fernando Verdasco?

Ok NandyMan, so you muscled your way into the top ten on the back of one of the best matches of the year, and after a brief period that remains unaccounted for, were able to play sufficiently well to finish the season amongst the very best.

Now what?

At the beginning of the year Nando didn’t feature very prominently on my confidence radar, in fact he was barely there at all.

Don’t look now, but if he’s not sharp from the get go next year, it might only be a matter of months before he’s reacquainted with the less frilly environment of the top twenty; and it will take more than just a furious forehand to avert that.

As for the WTF, he’s more than earnt his place at the winner’s table – sometimes on the back of matches that were too painful to watch, and that he had trouble finishing; maybe, just maybe, the accolade of qualifying alone might be enough.

Don’t see him feeling the need to fight his way past injury.

Group B

WTF has happened to Rafael Nadal, and are the WTF the best place to understand it?

First things first. Rafa’s not injured. Not as far as I know. He may not be as vibrant as he was at the beginning of the year, but he’s not injured.

He’s not been the same since he was forced to forego Wimbledon, a period in which we now know he was dealing with the fallout from his parents’ divorce, and since then his tennis has been sketchy at best.

Not being able to perform leads to it’s own set of problems of not gaining sufficient invaluable court time opposite the world’s best.

It happens to the best of us (well ok, maybe reaching WTF doesn't happen to the best of us).

I’d like to see him play well, but he’s unfortunately been grouped with a bunch of players particularly adept at taking a piece out of him.

I harped on about how I wanted to see him face off against Big Rob last month, but I don’t now know that there’s any satisfaction to be derived from watching him being butchered, vulnerable as he now seems, ill equipped to fend off Robin’s mighty blows.

Ditto Davydenko.

And Ditto Djoko, who’s not normally the Rafa Bane that Kolya and Big Rob are.

Still, Rafa’s surprised us before and you’d be a fool to write him off, but I’ll be very surprised to see him reach the semis.

Can Novak Djokovic keep it going and cap off one of his best indoor seasons ever?

Do you know, I’m not sure he can.

You already know my thoughts on ‘Born Again Novak’, and I know it seems silly to bet against the best current elite performer on tour.

I do believe he’ll make the semis (though it might not prove as easy as many seem to think).

Let’s just say that three out of three might prove to be a tournie too far and that he might get more than a surprise from Federer and Murray’s direction.

That’s if Kolya doesn’t get there first.

Why has Nikolay Davydenko only made the finals once in four appearances?

Alright, I already know the answer to that question. Federer.

But let’s not forget that Rafa is largely inactive during this part of the year, and that Nik is one of the fittest players on tour, not given over to wildly fluctuating performances. Nice window of opportunity you have there son.

I like that he reached the finals last year. Fed was out with a bad back. Has he missed his best chance?

Where have you been all my life Robin Soderling?

Alright, I realise I’m a minority within a minority here, but I rather like Big Rob.

I like his imposing, antagonistic presence.

I like his big swinging groundies.

I like it, that his double handed backhand is as fiercely struck (if not more so) than his forehand.

I like it, that hitting the lines or near abouts isn’t the exception but the rule.

I like it that he’s a quirky and slightly misunderstood figure.

But most of all, I like it that he’s turned inelegance into an art form.

Oh, there’s also the possibility that *actual* Armageddon might take place when he takes to court opposite Rafa.

All very interesting, ticks all the boxes, dontcha-think?

Well ok, maybe not for everyone, but he does for me. Shoot me down, but I was even rather glad to see him make the cut at the expense of an injured Andy Roddick.

Now I’d like to see him take the next step by improving his record against Federer. Juan-Marteen did it – why shouldn’t he?

I dunno how far he’ll make it at the WTF this time round, given the fact that he’s been battling injury and that very dubious hung over performance he gave in Paris, but let’s just say that I look forward to him being a dependable top ten presence next year.

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