Since then, 10 more 500s have come and gone as the gruelling men’s calendar cranks up to its finale, the Nitto ATP finals in London, via the last Masters tournament of the year in Paris.
And so the points offered by the final pair of 500s this week in the picture-book cities of Vienna and Basel represent a late chance to boost rankings as the door closes on London qualification.
And while six of the eight places have already been filled, there are plenty more players who have a chance of taking the trip to the O2, as there remain fewer than 1,220 points separating the next in line, No7 Alexander Zverev, and No18 Felix Auger-Aliassime. And there is a maximum of 1,500 points available in the next fortnight—though that would mean winning titles both this week and next.
To complicate matters for those in need of big points, three of the men who have already qualified are playing this week, ready to deny the rest the chance to reach the weekend and its big points.
Dominic Thiem is No1 seed in Vienna, while the two in Basel are Roger Federer and Stefanos Tsitsipas. But the competition does not stop there, with Nos 8, 13, 14 and 17 in the Race in the Vienna draw, while Nos 7, 9, 10, and 11 in the Race feature in Basel.
Indeed the line-up in Basel is a formidable one, for there are also several dangerous unseeded players looking to end 2019 with a rankings boost, the likes of wild card Alex de Minaur, Marin Cilic, and Reilly Opelka.
So tight are the places in the Race that defending ATP Finals champion Zverev, seeded No2 in Basel, is yet to qualify, but he could have done so with the title come Sunday. He reached the semis last year, and after a see-sawing season, he arrived with some encouraging results in October: a semi run in Beijing, and the final of the Shanghai Masters—where he beat Federer in the quarters.
But Zverev would be thwarted in his campaign by an even younger player ranked just outside the top 30, the 21-year-old Taylor Fritz, who won his first title in Eastbourne this summer. He beat Zverev 7-6(7), 6-4, to set a third contest against de Minaur.
And that left Zverev vulnerable to being overtaken by Matteo Berrettini, who won his opener in Vienna, and by Roberto Bautista Agut and Fabio Fognini, who won their openers in Basel. It may not happen for all of them this week, but with so many points on offer in the last event, the Paris Masters, there remains plenty of room for movement.
Amid all this jostling, though, there remains one constant. And make no mistake, the top Basel seed, Federer, will hope to throw up a road-block for all-comers. For like no other tournament, this is his place.
He was born in this multi-lingual, hyper-chilled corner of Switzerland, on the outskirts of the city that is just a hop, skip and a jump from both the French and German borders, and is bisected by the majestic Rhine.
He was a ball-kid here 30 odd years ago, and his mother sold tickets for the tournament, but few could have anticipated just how dominant Federer would become, and nowhere more so than in Basel.
The statistics are extraordinary. Amid 20 Major titles, six ATP Championships, 28 Masters titles, four Olympic Games (and two medals), 27 Davis Cup ties, and many charity exhibitions, he has not missed playing in Basel since 2005 except for the one season he was forced to abandon, 2016, following knee surgery.
Indeed, 2019 marks his 19th appearance in his home city, 21 years after his first, when he was a 396-ranked teenager against Andre Agassi.
Now, he is going for his 10th title, and arrived with a 71-9 win-loss record and on a 20-match winning streak. His last loss was to Juan Martin del Potro in the 2013 final, one of 12 straight finals in St Jakobshalle.
When he took on Peter Gojowczyk on the first day of play, it marked one more milestone—Federer’s 1,500 tour-level match. And in just 53 minutes, Federer had extended those statistics with a victory, 6-2, 6-1, making 34 winners to just 18 unforced errors.
Now with 21 straight match-wins, and a tally of 72 in Basel, he admitted:
“I thought the match was good. I felt like I had a good spring in my step and was quick onto the ball. Didn’t take me long to get used to the conditions. That was positive.”
And since winning in Halle and being edged in the title match at Wimbledon by Novak Djokovic, the world No3 has not made it beyond the quarter-finals in his three subsequent events—a run lifted by leading Europe to victory in the Laver Cup.
So he appreciates the chance of building some momentum as he heads to the season’s climax in London:
“I feel like it’s been a very solid season. It started very well for me and I hope to pick it up now for the year-end. I love playing indoors as well, and I hope it’s going to all happen in Basel.”
In Vienna, Thiem also consolidated his ranking with a win over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Diego Schwartzman maintained an outside chance of London qualification with victory over Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Another man hoping to debut in London, Karen Khachanov, at No16 in the Race, beat Hubert Hurkacz.
1 Rafael Nadal 9,225 [qualified]
2 Novak Djokovic 7,945 [qualified]
3 Daniil Medvedev 5,875 [qualified]
4 Roger Federer 5,735 [qualified] Basel R2
5 Dominic Thiem 4,525 [qualified] Vienna R2
6 Stefanos Tsitsipas 3,730 [qualified] Basel R2
7 Alexander Zverev 2,855 [lost Basel R1]
8 Matteo Berrettini 2,525 Vienna R2
9 Roberto Bautista Agut 2,485 Basel R2
10 David Goffin 2,325 Basel R1
11 Fabio Fognini 2,280 Basel R2
12 Kei Nishikori 2,180 [not playing]
13 Gael Monfils 2,170 Vienna R1
14 Diego Schwartzman 1,860 Vienna R2
15 Stan Wawrinka, 1,820 Basel R1
16 Karen Khachanov, 1,785 Vienna R2
16 John Isner 1,760 [not playing]
18 Felix Auger-Aliassime, 1,636 Vienna R1
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge