Roddick & Ferrer use Basel & Valencia to seal WTF places
It is meant to be the lean part of the ATP tour, the downhill run towards the season-ending World Tour Finals in London.
The grand slams have been and gone, the Asian swing has been short and sweet, and the chill of northern climes seems to put a dampener on the late indoor tournaments as autumn dovetails into winter.
This is often the season of injuries, too. Bodies are tired and, as the players succumb to the rigours of more hard court tennis, the strains and stresses start to show. Well that’s the theory. But this year, the first month in November in cool northern Europe is pulsing to the rhythm of almost every top-20 player on the tour.
Only Rafael Nadal -pacing himself for the WTFs from the safety of a 4,400 point margin at the top of the rankings -and an injured Jo-Wilfried Tsonga have failed to sign up for the 500 tournaments in Basel and Valencia.
Valencia boasts defending champion Andy Murray and fellow top-eight players Robin Soderling, Fernando Verdasco, and David Ferrer.
Basel, the world’s third largest indoor tournament, is celebrating its 40th anniversary and its second since promotion to 500 status. In starring roles are home-town boy Roger Federer and fellow top-10 players Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, and Andy Roddick.
There are as many motives as men for this extraordinary explosion of tennis.
For example, David Nalbandian announced ahead of Basel that he “will try to break back into the top 10 next year”. By beating Marin Cilic in three sets, he has also put an end to the Croatian’s bid for London.
Next up for Nalbandian is Roddick, who he beat in their last two meetings in straight sets, and then possibly Federer, who he beat to take the WTF title in 2005.
Federer himself has other motives. His pride was undoubtedly wounded in Basel in 2009. After all, he had won his home tournament for three successive years until Djokovic wrenched the trophy from his hands in last year’s final. So the prospect of revenge against the same man in the 2010 final must be very sweet.
Thus far, everything has gone to plan, with straightforward progress to the quarters. But it’s been the same for Djokovic, and from here on, things look a little more tricky.
In what has turned into a top-heavy draw, Federer faces Radek Stepanek and then either Nalbandian or Roddick, both men on a mission. Meanwhile, Djokovic has no seeds in view, though Richard Gasquet in the semis may prove to be a test.
After losing in front of an adoring Swiss crowd last year, there could be some extra fireworks if they do indeed face-off for the Basel title.
For several men, however, this is the end of a campaign to reach the prestigious WTFs: indeed London is so close that three or four of them can almost taste it.
Roddick returned a week earlier than anticipated from a three-week injury lay-off to take part in Basel for the first time in seven years. In reaching the quarter-finals, Roddick has overtaken Ferrer to take the seventh slot in the race to the WTFs. The American has qualified for the year-end championships for the past seven years but last year, injury meant he was unable to play in London.
And in Shanghai the year before, he was also forced out of the WTFs with illness. No wonder he was driven to take part in Basel this week.
Ferrer has gradually been playing himself into contention for the WTFs since New York, and he is now in the top 10 for the first time in two years.
He was runner-up in Beijing, one of four finals -including the Rome Masters -this year. His 55 match wins are second only to Nadal this year and the second highest of his career.
Ferrer sits eighth in the race to London and must reach the Valencia final to add points, but a decent run in Paris should confirm that hard-won London place.
Verdasco is bidding to qualify for London for the second year in a row and, just like last year, he remains on the very edge of qualification right up to the last moment.
The good news in Valencia is that he won his first round match. The bad news is that it was only his first win since his quarter-final exit at the US Open, and he has since lost his second round match to Gilles Simon. He will thus need an outstanding run in Paris to ensure he rises from ninth place in the race to the top eight.
Right behind Verdasco is Youzhny, who opened his Asian campaign with a bang by winning at Kuala Lumpur. However, he failed to keep the momentum going, falling in the first round at both Beijing and Shanghai.
Although he pulled out of Moscow with a viral infection, he reached the finals of St Petersburg and things looked back on course, but once again, he’s been struck down, this time with a back strain. Unless he makes Paris, and performs well there, he will lose out to one of the surprise packages of the year.
Melzer is enjoying the best year of his career: some achievement at 29. He reached a Grand Slam semi-final for the first time at Roland Garros and then won the doubles title at Wimbledon and Shanghai. Only last week, he also won the Vienna title.
Melzer has already qualified for the WTFs in doubles and was hoping to qualify for the singles, too. However, he was forced to withdraw from Basel this week, and his only consolation can be that Youzhny is in the same injury boat and Verdasco is all at sea.
The last player who seemed guaranteed to qualify just a few weeks back was Berdych, who has sat comfortably within the top eight since the late summer. But since Wimbledon, where he reached his first Grand Slam final, he has managed just seven wins to 11 losses.
Things have continued badly in Basel, with defeat in the first round, so Berdych’s hopes, like those of several other men, now rest on his performance in Paris.
It is proving to be one of the closest ever races for the year-end final. Roddick and Ferrer look like good choices for slots six and seven, but it would be a very foolish person to predict the eighth.