It was about this time last year that Rafael Nadal went from being unbeatable to very vulnerable indeed. He had played more than 100 matches in a season that had seen him win both the French Open and Wimbledon and move up ready to dethrone Roger Federer as world number one. And then suddenly he became merely excellent instead of supreme.
Quite simply the blaze and effort of so many matches and so much competition caught up with him. And it’s a lesson worth learning as you look at the field for the Barclays ATP Tour World finals which start in London’s O2 Arena this weekend.
This time it is world number three Novak Djokovic who is coming into the tournament on a wave of good form after winning the Paris Masters last week. Since the US Open he has won three titles and triumphed in 19 of his last 20 matches. So no wonder that he is 2.36 favourite to finish top of Group B after the draw for the initial round robin matches was made yesterday.
He faces Nadal, who he beat in the semi-finals last week, Robin Soderling and the Russian Nikolay Davydenko in his group and on the face of it should be pretty certain to beat all three. But here comes the health warning – courtesy of Andy Murray who’s analysis of his sport and opponents can be pretty shrewd.
Murray was risking being blown away by the wind which whipped around the London Eye when the draw was made earlier this week.
But he still came up with some very calm sense about Djokovic’s chances, explaining: “He’s had a lot of matches this year and if he was to win this tournament he would be close to playing 100 singles matches for the season, so it will be interesting to see how he pulls up.”
Fatigue and injuries play a major part in the back end of a tennis season, and Murray himself certainly knows all about that. During the summer he was backed as low as 1.75 for small money and at evens for a little more to finish the season as world number two.
As that hope faded he was still matched at one time as tight as 1.34 to be number three. Instead he’ll start his first match at the O2 on Sunday afternoon, recovered from his wrist operation, but still not completely certain to justify his current price of 1.14 to be world number four.
It’s certain that all of the eight players will be carrying their own knocks and niggles, and it’s why you can’t trust completely to form as you would earlier in the year. The tournament’s history is littered for that reason with shock winners including the likes of David Nalbandian and Gustavo Kuerten, and the top two ranked players have hardly ever met in the final. It’s why it’s worth looking at somebody like last year’s finalist Davydenko to get there again at a generous price of 5.8.
Five things you might not know about Nikolay Davydenko
1. He was born on June 2, 1981, in the Ukrainian town of Severodonetsk, one of the major chemical producing centres of the old Soviet Union
2. His family moved first to Russia and then when he was 15 to Salmtal in Germany where older brother Eduard convinced him he would have more chance of a successful tennis career
3. At the age of 18 he applied for and was granted Russian citizenship – but later also applied for dual nationality with both Austria and Germany. His home with wife Irina is now in Volvograd
4. Known for speaking his mind, at different times he described an event in Sydney as “a small event nobody cares about” and called London “a boring place”
5. Away from tennis he loves to go fishing – and lists his proudest achievement as catching a 10kg barracuda in the sea near Mauritius
Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. Ã‚Â© The Sporting Exchange Limited
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BIOGRAPHY: Alexandre Lacazette