Usually around this time of year, the city of London is wrapped in a veil of mist, shrouding the buildings located amidst the lower be bights of the River Thames in a sheer, never-surceasing sea of cold, wet grey — or at least that’s what the myths of the Victorian age revolving around dimly-lit alleyways and scenic backdrops of Sherlock Holmes’ carriage rattling across London’s cobbles and emerging from the fog would like us to believe.
The reality is a little different.
Not entirely unlike fog formation, the 2015 ATP World Tour Finals depended on some key variables to surface — probably more so than any other tournament — for the event to come to pass as the great climax to the end of a season that fans and media alike pine after.
The grey walls depend on a stable atmosphere, high relative humidity and warm air masses trapping cooler air underneath; if none of those prerequisites are met, it’s highly unlikely anything will visibly transpire — in the truest meaning of the word. While London has seen the occasional bout of dramatic, heavy fog roll across town over the years, the past couple of days at the O2 Arena have been cloaked in relatively little mystery and intrigue heading into the tournament that concludes 2015 on the ATP Tour.
This isn’t just the fault of one component, or one failed premise belying expectations for what should be the “Final Showdown” of the year. Conditions were never conducive for the event to become the enthralling spectacle it could be — and has been — in some previous editions; between a myriad of factors the following three stand out:
Novak Djokovic’s dominance
The Serb is playing the season of his career, swiping through matches and tournaments at such gale force that he dispels all cloudiness and ambiguity concerning his ATP domination. There has been the occasional moment in the lead up to London when the World No. 1 has been tested — but he passed those with flying colors, never even allowing a race for the year-end top ranking.
This is not a knock on the man who has racked up 11 titles in 2015, but rather a testament to his current stranglehold over the tour — even against a lot of the Elite Eight who gathered underneath the roof of the O2 Arena.
A lack of equilibrium
After Tomas Berdych and Kei Nishikori were slotted into the group headlined by Djokovic and Roger Federer, there was very little doubt as to who was going to progress into the semifinals. Neither the Japanese nor the Czech had seen a massive surge in the performance curve heading into the final events of the season, so a sudden burst of form for either to pull of the upsets in London appeared unlikely, if not out of the question.
In a similar manner, very few people saw David Ferrer interfere in the fight for the semifinal berths eventually contested by Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka. On the WTA, Serena Williams was as equally dominant as Djokovic, but behind the American, parity reigns. While critical voices might describe it as chaos, it yielded an incredibly open, and thrilling, WTA Finals in Singapore — something that’s currently unlikely in the men’s game as a result of several thresholds embedded within the Top 10 even behind the World No. 1.
While it is arguably great for the tournament organizers, the public and ticket sales to have eight of the sport’s biggest players compete at the final big event of the year, it is slowly beginning to cut both ways like a double-edged sword. The presence of nothing but familiar faces competing in front of a sometimes sold-out crowd is somewhat deceptive.
The ATP stands very much in need of some fresh faces challenging the veterans, whose names are as good as set in stone at the World Tour Finals — particularly since the event is going to stay in the capital of the United Kingdom for at least another three years. It’s not just the need for fresh blood that plagues the ATP, though — but also the intrigue to accompany it. A lot of the narratives leading into London felt like well-trodden paths, worn out by the many times they have been frequented in recent months: Whether it is the manufactured hype and drama surrounding a Davis Cup final that could just as easily be a World Group playoff tie, Berdych’s and Ferrer’s struggle against the world’s best or Djokovic “not being ‘loved’ by the crowd” — these records, just to name a few, all have at least a scratch or two by now.
Luckily enough, the 2015 ATP World Tour Finals weren’t quite as much of a damp squib as last year’s edition — even though the very clear cut matches over the course of the first two days prompted several to worry if recent history would repeat itself. As the week progressed, a couple of twists and turns emerged — plus some impromptu haircuts and stray towels — while several matches eventually turned out to be more closely contested as well as entertaining.
Rafael Nadal continued his quest for rehabilitation from his most trying season yet and finished the year with another three Top 10 wins under his belt. Djokovic proved to be too strong in Saturday’s semifinal but regardless, the Spaniard exceeded tempered expectations by going undefeated throughout the group stage. After a 6-1, 6-1 thrashing at the hands of the World No. 1 on the opening day, Nishikori finally appeared to regain traces of the player many people considered to be a Grand Slam threat in 2015.
Ultimately, the ATP World Tour Finals ended up with the repeat of last year’s Federer-Djokovic championship — or what the championship should have been had Federer taken the court — but the road leading there proved to be not quite as translucent as previously anticipated. Federer’s straight-set victory over a somewhat out-of-sorts Djokovic in the group stages threw a necessary wrench into the rising grey mist — and while the Swiss might have won three of their best-of-three encounters on hard courts this year, the World No. 1 still went into the final as the favorite.
Djokovic prevailed as many anticipated but thanks to their group stage encounter, at least the last ATP match of the year was shrouded in a little more intrigue — which is exactly what the tournament needs.