Paris Masters: Nadal and Djokovic target No1, and Federer No100 – maybe
Marianne Bevis looks ahead to the 2018 Paris Masters, with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic vying for the No1 ranking
• Nadal and Djokovic must win one match more than the other to claim No1
• Roger Federer could win his 100th title after reaching 99 in Basel—if he plays
• Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori, John Isner vie for last two places at Nitto ATP Finals
• Defending champion Jack Sock seeks just his third match-win since May
• Kyle Edmund pulls out of draw with fluid on the knee
As the men’s tennis tour heads to its last regular stop of the season at the Rolex Paris Masters, there is no sign at all of things winding down towards its all-too-brief off-season.
The Paris Masters brings to the table big earnings—over €33,000 for a first-round win—but just as important at this sharp-end of the season, it brings big points. And for some players in particular this week, that is hugely significance.
No1 on the line
Top of the pile, for the top two seeds, Nos 1 and 2 in the world, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, there is the head-to-head contest for that No1 ranking at the end of the tournament. Whichever one of them wins more matches than the other will either stay at the top or reclaim the top.
Should it be Djokovic, it would make the Serb the first player to come from outside the top 20—he was at No22 in June—to reach No1 in a single season since 2000.
And should Djokovic go all the way to the title, it would not only take him back to No1 for the first time in two years, but draw him level with Nadal on 33 Masters titles.
Nadal seeks indoor breakthrough
Should Nadal win, he would stay at the top, but also celebrate his very first Paris Masters title. Indeed he would celebrate only his second ever indoor hard-court title since he won his first as a teenager at the Madrid Masters in 2005 (which then occupied the Shanghai Masters slot in the calendar), and that despite playing 24 indoor hard events since.
The Spaniard is playing his first match since retiring with a knee injury in the semis of the US Open almost two months ago, so will be fresh, even if his fitness is untested in the heat of competition.
It so happens that he has drawn in his quarter a man with a significant agenda of his own, Dominic Thiem. The Austrian is close to sealing his place in London, and he lost a desperately close five-set battle to Nadal in the quarters in New York. But his record in Paris-Bercy is not great—the third round last year—and he has a tough opener in the shape of Lucas Pouille or Gilles Simon.
Not that Nadal has an easy run to the quarters. The in-form Fernando Verdasco has given him problems in the past—they have split their last six matches—and the alternative first opponent, Jeremy Chardy, is tricky on his day.
As for Round 3, Jack Sock may be the defending champion, but his form has tumbled since this time last year: he is just 7-20 in singles this season.
And Nadal has, too, avoided his old rival Roger Federer, with whom he swapped the No1 ranking several times earlier this year.
Will he, won’t he? Federer undecided
The problem for the Swiss star is that the last Masters of the year follows hot-foot after the home-town ATP500 in Basel, which he will never sacrifice in order to be fresh for Paris-Bercy. That he has reached the final in Basel 14 times has made the turn-around a frantic one—all the more so with the still bigger prize of the World Tour Finals a week later.
Federer did again win his home title, but some less glittering results since the grass season have perhaps left more in the tank than usual. So while Federer has not played during this week since 2015, and only three times since winning the title in 2011, he has added his name to the draw. Should he win, it would be big indeed: 100 titles.
At the age of 37, and with a finite number of chances to play at the season finale, it is a tough balance to find. But if he does play, the draw has done him few favours: first either Milos Raonic or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who may be returning from injury but is a former Paris champion, and beat Federer in their last two meetings.
Then comes Fabio Fognini, who is enjoying the best season of his career, or Benoit Paire, who came close to beating Federer in Halle. The quarters could bring Kevin Anderson, who beat Federer at Wimbledon, or Kei Nishikori, who pressed him hard in five sets in his title run at the 2017 Australian Open. The former arrives with the Vienna title and qualification for London, the latter was runner-up in Vienna and still needing big points to make London.
And if all that was not enough, Federer is in Djokovic’s half. So will he or won’t he?
Who will nab the last two London places?
Two places, four men still in contention: that is the reality for Marin Cilic, Thiem, Nishikori and John Isner. Though a close look at the reality for the latter two is that they need to be around at the end of the week, and hope that Cilic and Thiem fall early.
Cilic is close to qualification, but may have preferred a first opponent other than Philipp Kohlschreiber, who has got the better of the Croat in seven of their 11 matches, three of their last four. Next comes Roberto Bautista Agut or Grigor Dimitrov, and then Djokovic. He will want to get a couple of wins on the board rather than depend on losses by the chasing pack.
Thiem needs more points, and does not have an easy draw: After Simon or Pouille are Borna Coric and Daniil Medvedev.
Nishikori should make Round 3 with little trouble, and perhaps Anderson, with London already assured, will bring a little less intensity to court in that encounter. But then it is Fognini, Federer, Tsonga… the options from that segment are many. And likely four-time champion, and the best player of the year thus far, Djokovic, looms in the semis.
Isner is the most adrift in points, bit at least Round 2 should be straightforward: special exempt Mikhail Kukushkin or wild card Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Round 3 may bring the ever-improving power player, Karen Khachanov, and this quarter is topped by Alexander Zverev, whose debut here last year ended in the second round.
Look out for…
· A possible rematch between Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas, who was ranked 27 when he beat Thiem, Zverev, Anderson and Djokovic to reach his first Masters final in Toronto. He was 91 at the start of the year, but debuts at the Paris Masters as No16 and with his first title in the bag.
· Dimitrov has only reached the third round in all five previous visits to Paris, and since making the final in Rotterdam in February, the defending ATP Finals champion has notched up seven opening-round losses. Will the help of Andre Agassi, who has joined him in Paris, revitalise his results?
· Raonic vs Tsonga: a big-time first-round match pitting former champion against a former finalist. Tsonga is returning after a six-month absence following knee surgery, while Raonic, after injury problems earlier this year, has suffered three opening losses in a row before Paris.
Paris champions and finalists in draw
Champions: Djokovic (four), Federer (one), Sock (one, defending), Tsonga (one)
Finalists: Nadal, Isner, Filip Krajinovic, Raonic, Tsonga
Not playing, though ranked within range
Juan Martin del Potro, Hyeon Chung, David Goffin, Kyle Edmund, Nick Kyrgios, Gael Monfils
The draw [16 seeds have bye in R1]
Top Nadal half
R2 Verdasco or Chardy
R3 First seed No16 Sock, Gasquet
QF Seeds are No6 Thiem, No11 Coric
SF Seeds are No4 Alexander Zverev, No12 Schwartzman, No8 Isner
Final Top seeds are No2 Djokovic and No3 Federer
Bottom Djokovic half
R2 Joao Sousa
R3 First seed No14 Tsitsipas
QF Seeds are No5 Cilic, No9 Dimitrov
SF Seeds are No3 Federer, No7 Anderson, No10 Nishikori, No13 Fognini
Final Top seeds are No1 Nadal and No4 Zverev
Race to London
Juan Martin del Potro
Still in the Race