The ATP World Tour Finals began on the back of a Masters Series Final involving the only man ever to beat Rafa Nadal on the clay of Roland Garros. The man on form and the new world number four Roger Soderling was drawn against the man he replaced in the elite top four and home crowd favourite Andy Murray. The questions about who are currently the best four players in the world was answered emphatically as the tournament progressed to its semi-final stage.
Andy Murray destroyed Soderling in the first match of the tournament. The score was 6-2 6-4. The players have spent all season building up ranking points to qualify for this end of season cash-fest, so for Murray to start so well was a great response to the ranking slip hiccup. This ongoing battle for who should be number four in the world was to become a side-show to the upcoming masterclass. Federer and Nadal were about to turn up.
Federer sailed through the group stage dispatching the hapless David Ferrer conceding only five games, beating Murray with ominous ease and even though he managed to concede a full five games in the first set against Soderling – he still sailed through with a 100% record (without coming close to losing a set) – Federer was impressive.
Nadal had a little more trouble in his group matches. He dropped the first set against Roddick and was pushed in the first set against Djokovic and Berdych. Not as comfortable as the current Best Player To Ever Pick Up a Racket Cliche Roger Federer, but 100% nevertheless. The fact he kept this perfect record also ensured the semi-final line up would feature the best four players in the world. Nadal vs Murray and Federer vs Djokovic.
The draw also set up what was to be the best match of a frankly disappointing tournament in terms of exciting matches, tense moments and final set showdowns. It was worth it. The Nadal/Murray match served up all these and more. Outstanding tennis from both players. Murray played his best game at times, as did Nadal. Similar to the opening major of this year – Murray was on form and still losing against one of the world’s top two. He was losing well. But, at times, you even dared to hope he would be winning well… Small differences. The kind of differences that make a champion. Murray was ahead in the final set tie-break. He was 4-1 up. He couldn’t lose from here; he did. Nadal found that priceless thing that champions have, the ability to win the big points when everything else is even. When both players are at the top of their game, hitting winners, defending forehand after forehand, mixing up the serve and volleys, hitting the 70% first serve mark; Murray was doing all of these – but he still couldn’t win. Nadal won, again. Murray must count himself unlucky to be around at a time of Nadal/Federer tennis empire building but if he doesn’t win a major soon, questions are going to become louder and louder about whether he ever will.
Federer dominated Djokovic in the other semi-final. He won easily.
The dream final. The best two players ever, the final match of the season. Would Federer finish the season as he began with a victory in the Australian Open or would Nadal complete one of the most remarkable seasons ever with a win. Federer won the first. Nadal won the second. Final set showdown. Some would say a 6-1 thrashing is a disappoining finale. Not here. It was an example of the complicated relationship between these two players. Some days Nadal cannot be touched. He’s too powerful, mentally strong and hits the ball harder from all angles. Not in this set. Federer showed the speed of thought, the brilliant execution of spectacular cross court shots. He showed why the debate is so difficult. He muddied the waters everyone thought were clear after Nadal’s victory at Flushing Meadows (his third successive major win). Roger Federer will win another major, Andy Murray will win a major and Rafa Nadal will win the most majors. Now there’s a prediction for you. The first two will happen next season. I can’t wait.
By George Allwell