Andy Murray is the favourite to win the ATP Tour Finals which is fitting for the new world number one. The final event of the season takes place at the O2 Arena which makes it a home game for Murray. However, he has never reached the final in seven attempts and he has a difficult group to navigate before a potential showdown with Novak Djokovic a week on Sunday in the final.
The top eight in the standings qualify for the lucrative finals. This year players ranked one to seven are playing in London. Dominic Thiem from Austria finished ninth in the end of season rankings but gets a spot because Rafael Nadal at number eight is not playing. Six of the qualifiers are from Europe and Canada and Japan have one representative but no player from the United States has qualified.
The players are divided into the John McEnroe Group and the Ivan Lendl Group based on world rankings. The odd numbered players are in one group while the even numbered are in another. Each player faces the other three in their group in a round-robin format. The top two in each group will move on to the semi-finals and the winners of those matches meet in the final that could decide who heads the end-of-season rankings. Matches are played over three sets.
Djokovic has won in the last four years and for the first time in 2008. Roger Federer has won the event a record six times but did not qualify this year. Djokovic is the only former champion in the field and none of the other seven players contesting the event this year have made the final. The event is being played indoors on hardcourts which might favour Djokovic. Murray is appearing in London as the world number one for the first time.
He has said in the past he has sometimes felt ‘fried’ coming into the final event of the season. Circumstances have worked against him as he explained:
‘Last year I was getting ready for the Davis Cup final and preparing on clay. It’s not the right way to prepare if you’re playing against the best players. So this year maybe will be different’.
One major difference from the past is that Murray is now at the pinnacle of the game for the first time. He has won his last four tournaments this year and Wimbledon and the Olympics and is a worthy number one in the world. He is the first British player to reach the world number one position.
However, that status has not guaranteed a favourable draw in the John McEnroe Group in the Tour Finals. In the past two years at the O2 Arena Murray has lost to two of his group opponents, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori, while his other opponent, Marin Cilic, is at a career high ranking of number seven. If Djokovic goes further in this event than Murray he will win back the world number one spot. Djokovic has won 24 of their 34 meetings including their only indoor hardcourts match. The Serb has won five of his last six matches against Murray.
Djokovic has a 23-0 record against his three opponents and will be a tough nut to crack. He completed the Career Grand Slam in the French Open this year and then he had some uncharacteristic defeats. Problems away from the court may have been a factor but with the right focus he will want to end the season on a high and then regroup for an assault on the majors next season. A final in London between Djokovic and Murray would be a fitting end to the season and determine the number one over the beak.
Mental letdown can certainly be an issue at the start of November and the culmination of a season that began in January. Murray and Djokovic are only human and have suffered in the past and if they have problems this week Marin Cilic can take advantage and win the Tour Finals for the first time.