Roger Federer’s race for the ATP season ending No. 1 ranking will come down to the wire at the upcoming ATP World Tour Finals in London (Nov 9-16) and in the Davis Cup Final on Indoor Clay in Lille (Nov 21-23). The Swiss, who lost early at the ATP 1000 event at Paris-Bercy last week, still has a chance to finish the year as the ATP’s No. 1 player despite Novak Dj0kovic winning the Paris title on Sunday.
Federer is currently second in both the ATP Rankings and the ATP Race to London with 8700 points while Djokovic has 10010 points, giving him a 1310 point lead. Djokovic, who went unbeaten in last year’s ATP World Tour Finals, has 1, 500 points to defend at the event compared to Federer who has 400 points to defend after losing his round robin match to Djokovic and then going out in the semi-finals to Nadal in 2013.
Djokovic’s 1310 point lead over his Swiss rival is actually a 1160 point lead because 150 of the Serb’s points come from last year’s Davis Cup win in which Djokovic won two of his singles matches, points which this year he will not be able to defend. That 1160 point lead, with 1650 points up for grabs for Federer, who will play both London and this year’s Davis Cup final, is not enough to guarantee Djokovic the year end no. 1 – he will have to win three matches at the ATP Finals to do so- and while it will be a huge task for Federer, the chance of the Swiss equaling Pete Sampras’ six year end no. 1 finishes is, maths wise, possible.
First, the Swiss has to go unbeaten in the round robin stage of the ATP World Tour Finals and win the title. That feat, considering his recent form, and the extra preparation time he has had after losing early in Paris, is on his racket. However, there is one significant factor he cannot control- the play of Novak Djokovic. The Serb has to lose one of his round robin matches if Federer is to stand a chance and if Djokovic loses a round robin match but still manages to makes the semi-finals, the Serb has to lose. If the Serb makes the final, he would be the year end No. 1 whatever his round robin results.
Considering Djokovic has a combined win-loss record of 41-5 over his group of Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych. the chances of him losing are slim. They look even slimmer when taking into account Cilic has an injury, Wawrinka is slumping (he has not reached the semis of an event since winning in Monte Carlo in April) and Berdych, against whom Djokovic is a nightmare match-up, won only 2 games against Djokovic in Beijing a few weeks ago.
However, Djokovic’s form has been unusually inconsistent since Wimbledon. He lost early in his U.S Open Series events, then won in Beijing only to be blown away by Federer in Shanghai in straight sets. The Serb did regroup to win in Paris last week without dropping a set but the slow Paris surface is tailor made for his baseline game and return of serve.
Things will be different in London, though. The court will be faster which will help the cause of the other members of Djokovic’s group, particularly Cilic who has pushed Djokovic in their three meetings this year and recently won the Moscow event indoors. Should one of Berdych, Wawrinka or Cilic find their A-game and beat Djokovic, Federer has a chance.
The ideal scenario for the Swiss would be for Djokovic to finish second in his group and for Federer to finish first and so the two of them would meet in the semis. The Swiss, who has 3 wins over Djokovic this year, has a much better chance of beating Djokovic than his other group members- Nishikori, Raonic and Murray- all of whom lost to the Serb in straight sets last week in Paris.
But even if Djokovic is knocked out of the ATP World Tour Finals in the round robin or semi-final stage and Federer wins the title with an unbeaten record, the Swiss will still have work to do in Lille a week later. He would have to win both his singles ties in the Davis Cup final against France. That should not be too tough a task- Federer will be motivated to win his first Davis Cup title- but both those singles ties would have to be live rubbers. That means if Federer and Wawrinka win both their singles and their doubles and take the tie 3-0 Federer could not get the points he would need from the remaining rubber to finish No. 1. Ironically, Wawrinka’s poor form could mean Federer will have to play a rubber on the final day of the Davis Cup final, and if he is still in the running to finish the year as No. 1, he could do it by a mere 15 points in what would be one of the closest races for the season ending ATP ranking No.1 spot in the sport’s history.
Commentary by Christian Deverille
Photo courtesy of Marianne Bevis- License