By: Jane Voigt
The ATP World Tour Finals felt surreal this year. Day after day of disappointing news sank expectations unless, of course, it pertained to doubles. Those matches drew attention and filled crowds half-full of satisfaction, at least.
Then, the other shoe dropped: Roger Federer withdrew one hour before the singles final against Novak Djokovic. Despite seven days of “eh” from most of the eight best players of the year, 17,500 ticket holders that awaited the entertainment of a lifetime, an encounter as close to a Grand Slam final that they might ever approach were left stunned.
Christopher Clarey of The New York Times wrote about Federer’s withdrawal today, giving up a couple sentences to Mike and Bob Bryan’s fourth World Tour Final title while giving a considerably amount of ink to Federer’s back, the tiff with Stan Wawrinka during their rough-and-tumble semifinal which, according to John McEnroe on ESPN, continued in the locker room. Paul Annacone, Federer’s former coach, was also contacted for his input. He told Clarey, “They’ll talk about it and figure it out. [Federer’s] not vindictive, hold-a-grudge kind of guy.”
For his part, Djokovic was heard to be mentally drained from his semifinal against Kei Nishikori, which he won, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 – the only 3-set match Novak played. Both men were fatigued from a week of on-court dominance and mental indulgence, which comes with their tennis territory.
(Note: maybe the ATP should start the event on Saturday, giving finalists a day’s rest.)
Roger Federer is undoubtedly the game’s biggest draw, especially at this event, which he’s won for a record 6 times. He has qualified 13 times (2002-2014), second only to Andre Agassi’s 14. Federer is also a beloved figure when considering all sports. He deserves his accolades; he has earned them through on-court performance, charitable contributions, and an authentic love of the game that surrounds him as would a heavenly aura.
But let’s pull back and get our heads out of Sunday’s happenings, our smart phones, and Twitter feeds, all that electronic buzzing that disallows any type of big-picture perspective.
The fact is, this edition of the ATP World Tour Finals was an anomaly, plain and simple. Since its first production in 1970, the only ATP-owned tournament has put on some of the game’s best tennis — unforgettable in nature, asterisked in history books, and relived through storytelling.
Remember the 2005 final between David Nalbandian and Roger Federer in Shanghai? It was an intoxicating five-set affair, which Nalbandian won, 6-7(4), 6-7(11), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6(3). Nalbandian played this elite tournament three times; in 2005 he won two of his three round-robin matches in straight sets. Also winning his round-robin matches in straight sets that year was Nikolay Davydenko. In 2009, the first year at London’s O2 Arena, the Russian shocked the field. He defeated Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, to win the title.
Davydenko, who retired this year, qualified five times. In 2009, he defeated Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Robin Soderling, in the round-robin portion, and Roger Federer in the semifinals. And, to be crystal clear, in 2010 this event featured nine successive straight-set victories, plus a total 11 out of 12 for the round-robin play.
This year, two-thirds of the round-robin matches were won in 2 sets, with an unprecedented walkover in the final. In the doubles competition over half required 3 sets, 8 of 15. The event drew its curtains in perfectly book-ended fashion. Rafael Nadal’s early withdrawal cast an unfortunate shadow to start; Roger Federer ended things with disappointing news of his own.
Step back a decade and incorporate this scenario with all the year-ending scenarios and you have a continuum that rarely deviates, and if it does, it’s within an acceptable standard for the sport.
So congratulations to Mike and Bob Bryan, Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo for an exciting doubles final. Congratulations to the production team from that ATP for scheduling doubles prior to singles; at least half the days’ entertainment was worthwhile. And, finally, congratulations to Novak Djokovic on his fourth World Tour Final crown — his third consecutive — and his year-end ranking at number one.
Follow Jane on Twitter @downthetee!