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One final push for world's top players

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Jonathan Overend | 08:22 UK time, Sunday, 4 November 2012

Early afternoon inside the O2 Arena and with people laying carpets, plugging cables and fixing lights around them, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray traded blows on the blue court, reviving memories of their classic US Open final less than two months ago.

"I can assure you there wasn't the same intensity in that session," joked Murray afterwards. But there was still sufficient quality to remind us which is the preeminent rivalry in the autumn of 2012.

This is the thing about the ATP World Tour Finals; the best in the world come together in one place, for one final push.

This may have been practice, but when the tournament begins on Monday, Murray and Djokovic will continue a rivalry which has since moved from New York to Shanghai (where they played another brilliant, deciding set final) and it would be entirely appropriate if, as well as in the group phase, they met in the final a week on Monday.

Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer

Djokovic, Murray and Federer will lock horns in London this week. Picture: Getty Images

Roger Federer will definitely have something to say about that. The defending champion has won this title six times and, after defeat in the final at Basle, he pulled out of the Paris Masters to rest fully for the final week of the season.

His plan? To win Group B comfortably and then take out Murray or Djokovic or - preferably, from his point of view - both. Given his record of finishing the season strongly, who dares to stand in his way?

On Saturday night though, at the Royal Courts of Justice, an interesting insight. Taking the stage alongside Federer and the other qualifiers at the gala opening ceremony, Andy Murray was asked to reflect on his amazing season. "It's all thanks to this guy," he said, patting Federer on the back. "He made me cry at Wimbledon."

It wasn't deliberately patronising, it wasn't premeditated. It was all in good spirit because Murray has enormous respect for the Swiss. It made 400 people laugh, including Roger. But make no mistake, this was not something he would have done a year ago.

Murray, naturally shy, owned the stage at that moment and looked every bit an Olympic champion and Grand Slam winner. It was the first time I have seen him dominate Federer in public, without a tennis racquet in his hand. Read into that what you will.

The second seed in Federer's group, David Ferrer, is still in Paris trying to win his first Masters 1000 title. He plays Jerzy Janowicz in Sunday's final before hot-footing it under the Channel.

Also in that group is Juan Martin Del Potro, about to play his fourth tournament in as many weeks, and Janko Tipsarevic who, I'm told, still isn't feeling great after a bout of dizziness forced him to retire in his quarter-final match in Paris. Richard Gasquet is on site as the first alternate, but tournament officials don't expect him to be called upon.

All the players have been arriving at different times from Paris and with the line-up not finalised until late on Thursday, it's been a logistical headache for the excellent organising team.

Did Juan Monaco get measured for a suit which will never leave the peg? Is Milos Raonic on a giant banner which never leaves an office? What about Nicolas Almagro's page in the programme? At least eight players were still in contention for a place only a few days before the start.

The ATP can't say it didn't see this coming. The decision to back up Paris, the final Masters 1000 event of the year, with the World Tour Finals was taken to help shorten the season.

But rather attempt a meaningful restructure of the calendar, they simply decided to chop out a couple of rest weeks. The big question now is: would that extra week be better served giving the players a break before the World Tour Finals, or turning a six-week off season into a seven-week break?

If this tournament deserves a bit of extra breathing space from ATP high command (a board meeting is scheduled for four days this week), the Paris Masters also needs to know where it stands.

Is it any great surprise that finals weekend arrived in the French capital with only one member of the London field? Federer didn't make the start line, Djokovic lost his first match, Murray his second. This has been a long hard season and much as players want to win every match they play, they have to prioritise.

There's talk of Paris moving to February but that's far from guaranteed. As usual, the task of representing both the players and the tournaments' best interests is proving a tricky tightrope for the ATP to walk. If anything, I expect them to announce a one-year calendar, for 2014 only, while Brad Drewett and his board iron out longer-term issues.

Hopefully the talks will also decide to keep the season finale here in London. As Tomas Berdych suggested the other day, try to fix what is wrong with the tour, not what is right.

The O2 has proved to be the perfect venue for tennis and with Europe dominating the top 10 it makes sense to resist the advances of Rio for a while yet. Let's hope for a fantastic week of tennis!

A final word, if you'll allow me, for Sam Cheetham, one of the speakers at the gala event I talked about earlier. Sam, 14, is indebted, as I was at his age, to Great Ormond Street Hospital. He has a rare lung condition, pulmonary hypertension, which requires constant attention.

Sam wants to be a Formula 1 engineer and spoke of his journey more confidentially than I, as a broadcaster, ever could. You are an inspiration, Sam. Great Ormond Street is the charity supported by the ATP World Tour Finals, which begins on Monday.

The BBC will have live television, radio and online coverage of the ATP World Tour Finals - details on the BBC Sport website.


  • Comment number 1.

    happy this is live on the bbc,thanks for that,shame the aussie open isnt on as much but Jonathan are the bbc still showing 1 mens semi and both finals?

    i hope murray can win here and make it a London hat-trick of finals anyway(wimbledon,london 2012).but im not sure that the is given the group he is in,tsonga shouldn't be a worry for him but berdych and nole will be exhausting for to make the semis would be a great achievement.again fed gets the easiest group possible.i hope delpo and fed make it through and it is a muz,nole,fed,delpo semi.congrats to ferrer for the 1st masters title but as they say while the cats also not sure how concerned i should be murray having 3 matches and losing them while having match point,the shanghai final was the most startling result but nole won that with brilliance.i hope there are a plenty of corkers as there was in 2009.

  • Comment number 2.

    ''It was the first time I have seen him dominate Federer in public, without a tennis racquet in his hand. Read into that what you will.''

    ^ Sports journalism at its best right there. Murray cracks small a joke and suddenly he 'dominates' the other guys. A classic example of confirmation bias, this article's author has obviously already decided to go for a pro-murray stance, so he'll look for anything no matter how insignificant and spin it to look as though he's backing up his argument. Its really an indication of a lack of substance from the journalist.

  • Comment number 3.

    I really want to see Murray face off against Del Potro (hopefully in the final), they haven't played each other in years.

  • Comment number 4.

    ''It was the first time I have seen him dominate Federer in public, without a tennis racquet in his hand. Read into that what you will.''

    hahaha this comment is hilarious. Trust Overend to spin it to try and make Murray seem like the legend. Federer is old now, and clearly Murray is maybe marginally a better player, but there is no need to speak down upon the Swiss Meastro. he has been written of many times before and Overend you shouldnt even be allowed in his presence

  • Comment number 5.

    Maybe JO is reading a little too much into the phoney war, and 'dominate' isn't the word I would personally have used, but it is clear that Murray and the others believe that he is now in the club alongside Fed, Nole and Rafa, an equal rather than a nearly man. I certainly don't see how referring to a painful and humiliating experience could be interpreted as arrogant or patronising.

    2012 was the first year since 2003 to have 4 different names on the GS trophies. Looking ahead to next year, there are 4 potential names on 3 of the Slams (assuming Rafa is back to cruise to another RG triumph), and with Berdych and maybe Delpo as outside bets to sneak a/another Slam at some point, men's tennis is certainly a lot more intriguing now than at any point since the mid-noughties. Bring on 2013!

  • Comment number 6.

    Intrigues yes, its hard to predict the slam winner, a lot depends on Nadal. He often gets written of during his injuries, but once he gets going again he will quickly be one of the favourites for a slam again. Del Potro needs to stop whining about his wrist and man up. Lets now forget how dominant he was when he won the US open completely humiliating Nadal.

    The Federer of 2004-2007 would have schooled most of these jokers.

  • Comment number 7.

    I'm afraid there aren't enough interesting story lines in tennis these days. Everyone seems to be content with what they have. Murray has his GS, Fed has his 17 slams and is in his twilight, Nadal is out, Djoko is doing his thing, just being there and not really wanting to challenge for GOAT status, and of course everyone else is irrelevant. Hasn't been a good year for tennis overall.

  • Comment number 8.

    Paris has resembled Dodge City this week with most of the top players wanting to get out quick. It will be interesting to see how Ferrer performs this week after all his efforts. If the Paris Masters cannot find another date in the calendar next year then the Tour Finals must be moved back a week until they do otherwise the same lottery will happen next year. It's common sense but when did that apply to ATP scheduling or for that matter to several of the top players who arranger lucrative exhibition matches in November and December during their precious "break".

  • Comment number 9.

    The scheduling has been ridiculous - you want the players to be at their peak in the World Tour Finals.

    Federer is the indoor tennis maestro but defending his no 1 position has taken its toll on him. Would not be surprised to see some one like Delpo sneak it if Djoker & Murray are not at their peak.

    As for "It was the first time I have seen him dominate Federer in public, without a tennis racquet in his hand. Read into that what you will." - what a ridiculous statement. They were just joking around - dominance did not come into it and it is worth noting Federer has only relinquished the No 1 spot this week after a magnificent year in the ATP events.


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