Some high-profile regulars are absent from the ATP Finals this year with Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka all out of action since Wimbledon due to injury.
But there’s still plenty to look forward to and debate ahead of the season finale, which begins at the O2 Arena in London on Sunday.
Here are the main talking points surrounding this year’s ATP Finals…
CAN RAFA END HIS ATP FINALS DROUGHT?
Rafael Nadal’s right knee has naturally dominated the discussion heading into the Finals but he’s been looking decent in practice so far in London and the team’s spirits appear to be high. If he decides to play, we can expect him to pose a real threat, but the fact remains that he’s never won the title on any of his seven previous participations in the event.
Nadal pointed out on Friday that the fact the tournament is always played on indoor hard courts has been a factor in him never winning the title. Only one of the Spaniard’s 75 career trophies were won on indoor hard court (Madrid 2005 where he climbed from two sets down to beat Ivan Ljubicic in the final). Is it really impossible for him to beat his top-eight rivals on this O2 Arena surface? No it’s not. But with a troubled knee, it’s certainly a big ask.
The good news for the world No.1 is that he has a positive head-to-head against all of his fellow Pete Sampras Group members this season. Taking on the power-hitters from the other Group, or Roger Federer is a whole other story though. If Nadal does end up winning this title, it could be one of his most impressive triumphs to-date.
Grigor Dimitrov, Alexander Zverev, and Jack Sock are all making their first appearance at the ATP Finals while David Goffin, who played one match as an alternate last year, is enjoying his debut as an outright qualifier for the event.
With the format being so different from what the players experience year-round, having to contest a round-robin group stage before reaching the semi-final knockouts, and the fact that you face a top-eight player from the get-go, it’s understandable if a tournament debutant doesn’t perform well at the ATP Finals.
The last time a first-timer made it out of the group stage on his debut was Kei Nishikori in 2014. Stan Wawrinka achieved the same result on his debut in 2013.
Each one of this year’s debutants has a unique storyline. For some, it’s surprising that this is Dimitrov’s first time at the Finals. It feels like someone of his calibre surely must have competed here in the past.
But the 26-year-old had just missed out on the opportunity in 2014 and he has finally sealed it this year thanks to his title run in Cincinnati, and semi-final showing at the Australian Open.
For Zverev, he is the youngest of the group and at 20-years-old, is the youngest to qualify for the ATP Finals since Juan Martin del Potro in 2008.
While he said that clinching a berth at this tournament is almost like winning a title, we shouldn’t expect the German to not fully turn up for his matches. Zverev has risen to big occasions in 2017, winning two Masters 1000 titles by defeating two ‘Big Four’ opponents in each final, and I don’t think he’ll be fazed by the grand stage at the O2 this week.
Sock’s situation is rather funny. The American had no idea he had a chance to qualify for London when he was at the Paris Masters last week except when a journalist told him during a press conference mid-way through the tournament.
Sock started the year well winning Auckland and Delray Beach in the first two months of the season and going deep at Indian Wells and Miami but he went on a five-match losing streak between August and October and his challenge faded.
Then suddenly he won the Paris Masters, made his top-10 debut and sealed a spot in the ATP Finals. It was a surprise for him and us as well. Someone who didn’t expect to be here can be a real threat, and he certainly has the weapons to do lots of damage on this indoor surface.
CAN ANYONE STOP FEDERER?
Federer isn’t just a six-time ATP Finals champion, he’s also only lost four matches this year and is a clear favourite for the title. Zverev will probably be his biggest challenger in Group Boris Becker, although Cilic shouldn’t be underestimated on this surface and their Wimbledon final was marred by the Croatian’s foot blisters that hindered his performance.
Still, it’s hard seeing anyone other than the second-seeded Federer lifting the trophy on Sunday.