ATP’s elite struggle into Tour Finals, while spoilers poised for a run

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Andy Murray

Just a day after Novak Djokovic lost in Paris, Andy Murray went down to qualifier Jerzy Janowicz. (Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

It’s been a nutty week in Paris.

In the final ATP tournament before next week’s season-ending World Tour Finals in London, the top dogs of the men’s tour are dropping like flies. Roger Federer withdrew from the tournament after losing the Basel final to Juan Martin del Potro citing a desire to rest and prepare for the WTFs. Novak Djokovic, whose father was hospitalized, lost to Sam Querrey in the second round. Andy Murray lost Thursday to an inspired Jerzy Janowicz (best name in the game?). With Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal due to knee injury, this is the first time since the 2006 Paris Masters that Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, or Murray didn’t advance to the quarterfinals of an ATP Masters event. It also assures that there will be a non-Big Four Masters 1000 champ for the first time since Robin Soderling here in 2010. (And Paris’ wonky results haven’t been only about the Big Four. Del Potro’s 10-match, two-title winning streak came to an end at the hands of Michael Llodra in the third round.)

So as we look ahead to the WTFs, how much can we read into these results? Not a whole lot, I’m afraid. Of the nine ATP Masters 1000 events, the Paris Indoors have generally been an afterthought for the Big Four. Both Federer and Nadal have no problem skipping it, Federer due to its place in the schedule right before the prestigious WTFs, and Nadal for the same reason (though I’m sure Paris-Bercy’s quick indoor surface doesn’t appeal to Rafa either). This year the organizers decided to move away from the slick courts and lay down the exact same surface that the ATP’s top eight will play on in London at the O2 arena. Obviously that didn’t get them very far in convincing players to stick around.

The Paris Indoors have a long history of being the only one of the nine Masters events at which players outside of the Top Four have a chance. Dating back to 2003, the event has been won by someone outside of the ATP elite every year but twice — Federer last year and Djokovic in 2009. Tim Henman, Marat Safin, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Robin Soderling are just some of the names who have come out on top in Paris in that time-span. None of them ever went on to win the World Tour Finals a week later.

On the other side of the fence, the last nine WTFs saw only two men outside of the Federer-Djokovic duopoly win the title: Davydenko in 2009 and Nalbandian in 2005. And since Federer’s rise to prominence in 2003, he is the only player to pull off the Paris Masters-World Tour Finals double-header, which he did last year.

That’s not to say the revamped Big Three — for the moment comprised of Federer, Djokovic and Murray with Nadal out — have a lock on London. This year’s WTF field is more open than it has been in years. Federer is coming off three tough beats, to Berdych in the U.S. Open quarters, Murray in the Shanghai semis and Del Potro in the Basel final. Though currently ranked No. 1, his withdrawal from Paris gave Djokovic the year-end No. 1 ranking.

As for Djokovic, the soon-to-be No. 1 was cruising along with back-to-back titles in Asia, including a heroic effort in the Shanghai final where he saved match points to come back to beat Murray from a set and a break down. But that momentum could be derailed after this week, with his mind understandably back in Serbia, worried over the health of his father, Srdjan.

Murray’s loss to Janowicz in Paris continues a pattern in his recent string of losses: He’s held match points only to come up short. It happened Thursday in Paris, it happened against Raonic in Tokyo and it happened against Djokovic in Shanghai.

Though Federer, Djokovic and Murray have all shown their fair share of quality tennis since New York, it’s hard to ignore the question marks as they head into London. And they’ll be teed up against a field that has surged through the fall. No. 5 David Ferrer, a semifinalist in London last year, is still in Paris and coming off a title run in Valencia last week. Berdych, also still in the Paris field, made the semis of Shanghai and won Stockholm a week later, beating Tsonga in the final. Then there’s my odds-on dark horse pick for London, Del Potro, who despite the loss to Llodra today in Paris, should be riding a wave of confidence from beating Federer in Basel. The last time Del Potro qualified for the World Tour Finals he beat Federer to make the finals in 2009 where he lost to an in-form Nikolay Davydenko. The big guy is a monster on indoor hardcourts, running an 18-2 record for his season. The early loss in Paris gives him an opportunity to get to London and get the rest he needs after two straight weeks of play, and get acclimated to the O2.

Throw Jo-Wilfried Tsonga into that mix of contenders — he made the quarters in Paris to clinch his spot — and you not only have a quality field of contenders, but one that seems to be streaking at just the right moment. I’ve become accustomed to seeing the final eight limp into London to produce some lackluster matches at the World Tour Finals. That’s not the case this year.

In the battle of the ATP’s Best vs. The Rest, this is setting up to be the closest competition I’ve seen in years at the year-end finals.

  • Published On Nov 01, 2012

    Just looked Jerzy up to see if it has a Western form but it doesn't, it just means Farmer and comes from Lithuanian, back when Poland and Lithuania were one kingdom. So Farmer Johnson? A cool name? Hardly. A bit goofy I'd say. But there you go.


    Jerzy Janowicz is only the best name in the game because you think it's pronounced Jersey [like NJ] Yanowikz. But in fact since it's Polish written in Latin letters, it is anything but. Try Yeah-zhee [with the zh sound being the same as the final G in garage for instance, but not like a J, how the French pronounce the g more like] with the stress on the first syllable. As for Janowicz, it's actually very close to how Jelena Jankovic's name is pronounce minus the K, and also while Jankovic has the stress on the Ja so JANkovic, Janowicz is pronounce JaNOwich, stress on the O. Means son of John, so you can say his lastname is really the Polish version of Johnson. And Jerzy is a fairly common name in Poland, so hardly that cool when you think about it. And no, I'm not even Polish.


    There is an obvious explanation for Djokovic's loss in his very first match at the Paris indoors as well as his vulnerability in next week's World Tour Finals year-end world championship:

    Djokovic's worst surface is indoor hardcourts and, on average, his worst career performances in the bigger tournaments have come at the indoor events of Paris and the World Tour Finals.


    (a) Djokovic’s worst surface is indoor hardcourts: Novak's winning percentage on indoor hardcourts is aproximately 71.8% -- this is significantly worse than his outdoor hardcourt 85.2%, grass 77.0%, and clay 76.7%.


    (b) The Paris Masters is Djokovic’s worst Masters tournament as his career-winning percentage is just 65% (11-6). Djokovic has lost in the second or third round (i.e., he lost his first or second match) in six of his eight career Paris indoor events. In the past three years, he lost early in 2010 (3R), 2011 (QF), 2012 (2R).


    (c) Djokovic’s World Tour Finals career-winning percentage is worse at 50% (9-9). In three of his five career WTF appearances, Djokovic failed to get out of the round robin: 2007 (lost all three RR matches), 2009 (won only 1 RR match), 2011 (won only 1 RR match). In 2010, Djokovic lost in straight sets to Nadal in the RR and again straight sets to Federer in the semifinals.


    Djokovic was lucky (against Murray and in the easy draws he had) to get back-to-back titles in Asia. But those titles came on his favorite OUTDOOR hardcourt surface. All of Djokovic's five titles this year came on outdoor hardcourts (he has failed to win even the smallest title on clay, grass or indoor hardcourts) and without the burden of playing Davis Cup this entire year. Djokovic's success on outdoor hardcourt events cannot be presumed to translate to indoor hardcourts.


    Playing on indoor hardcourts is a different proposition for Djokovic. On indoor hardcourts, Djokovic is simply more vulnerable to more players. In Paris, Djokovic lost even to Sam Querrey, whose career indoor 53% puts him at only No. 43 among active players. On indoor hardcourts, in 2011 Djokovic lost to No. 32 Nishikori, No. 17 Del Potro, No. 9 Tipsarevic and No. 5 Ferrer. In 2010, Djokovic lost to players such as No. 34 Llodra and No. 20 Youzhny as well as Federer and Nadal. On indoor hardcourts, Djokovic is more vulnerable to losses in conditions he tends to win on outdoor hardcourts (Paris is Djokovic’s first loss this year in his first match, first loss after winning the first set as well as first loss to a player outside the top 20). His matchpoint-saving luck and overconfidence do not work so well on indoor hardcourts.


    Djokovic will surely be hoping that his World Tour Finals round-robin group includes Ferrer, Berdych and Tipsarevic. Yet almost every player who qualifies for the WTF knows they have a chance to beat Djokovic on indoor hardcourts (e.g., Ferrer has a 2-0 record over Djokovic at the WTF, including a straight sets win last year). The only question mark is whether Tipsarevic will  try his very best to beat Djokovic should they be drawn in the same round robin group.


    By next week, Djokovic's father should be back to full health. Djokovic's mind should be fully focused on the World Tour Finals. No excuses about his momentum being derailed next week.


    Novak Djokovic's father was hospitalized a week ago last Thursday, but he was never in critical condition. He did not have SARS or sepsis. He had a bacterial infection that was cleared up with two days of antibiotic treatment. The hospital spokeman said that it was shameful and sad that some news media jumped to conclusions to make the wrong diagnosis. By the time Djokovic took the short flight to visit his father last Sunday, his father should have been recovering well.


    Thus it was amusing to see several tennis writers -- from Tennis Magazine's Steve Tignor to the Independent's Paul Newman -- falling over themselves to use his father's hospitalization to make excuses for Djokovic's loss at Paris. Most referred to one Serbian news source Blic, and Newman even embellished Djokovic's father's illness as SARS. Had they checked more Serbian news sources -- like good reporters are supposed to do -- they might have discovered that other Serbian sources contradicted such reports were overblown.


    With his father getting back to health, no wonder Novak Djokovic clowned around with a Darth Vadar mask before his match against Querrey.


    Occasionally every tennis player has to deal with some problem or the other. At Shanghai, Federer had to deal with serial death threats as well as negotiations over grand slam prize money for all players. No mainstream tennis writer mentioned what happend to Federer at Basel (even though these stories were in the biggest Swiss newspapers last week). At Basel, Federer had to deal with one public relations disaster after another regarding his commitment to Switzerland's next Davis Cup match (partly caused by Wawrinka's untactful comments to the newsmedia) as well as regarding stalled negotiations to appear in future Basel events (leaked by the tournament organizer Brennwald playing hardball in the middle of the Basel event). Federer was an unhappy player at his own home tournament. I suppose, given his mind was distracted by such problems, we can apply the same principle to Federer's losses: Federer's momentum was understandably derailed at both Shanghai and Basel while he was fighting to finish the year No. 1.



    I need some help, because I don't really understand how Djokovic is gaining the #1 position next week. On the 'live ranking' on it appears that Federer has still a tiny advantage over Djokovic (15 points), since Djokovic also lost points this week.  Based on that, shouldn't Federer still be #1 after the weekend? And if he does better than Djokovic next week, should he not end as #1 this year?


    It's interesting, because paradoxically, I think the combination of Federer, Djokovic and Murray all coming off tough losses (and therefore, not streaking) along with the streaking likes of the other five, actually will favor the Big Three at London, due to the lack of time between Paris and London.  That is, the Big Three are all going to be able to rest and recharge before London, and given how good they are, they are more capable of rebounding from poorer patches of match play, while Tsonga, Berdych, Tipsarevic and Ferrer are all in the quarters in Paris, and therefore will have less rest before London, and will therefore find it harder to maintain their recent form.  Given the history of Tsonga, Tipsarevic and Berdych, it would not surprise me if, assuming these three make the semis in Paris, they all just run out of gas in London.  Ferrer is a different story, unless he actually wins Paris, in which case I could see him mentally and emotionally checking out of London.  In the aggregate, I would take a rested, albeit off-form, Big Three against an emotionally and physically exhausted, albeit streaking, Rest of the Field any day, and I think it may actually lead to some non-competitive, poor quality matches in London, contrary to Courtney's last two statements.  Unless they all lose in the quarters tomorrow, which would not surprise me given how Paris has gone so far.



    "Djokovic was lucky (against Murray and in the easy draws he had) to get back-to-back titles in Asia. But those titles came on his favorite OUTDOOR hardcourt surface. All of Djokovic's five titles this year came on outdoor hardcourts (he has failed to win even the smallest title on clay, grass or indoor hardcourts) and without the burden of playing Davis Cup this entire year. "


    Wow, where do you get the energy for so much negativity?


    I picked this particular quote for two reasons. First, Novak sure was 'lucky' with his easy draws in China by beating 3 top ten players (Tsonga, Berdych and Murray). Fact is, Novak has played the most matches against other top 10 players in 2012 out of the top 10. So much for lucky draws. 


    Secondly, funny you mention that he failed to win 'the smallest' titles on other surfaces when he did not play any 'small tournaments' on other surfaces. He's in fact played the fewest number of tournaments out of top 10 guys (not counting Nadal who's been absent half the season). He played Monte Carlo, Rome, Madid and RG on clay (I wouldn't consider any of those 'small') and he played Wimbledon and Olympics on grass. So your point that he doesn't win on other surfaces looks less valid when you can see that he only plays the top events on those surfaces. He's only played one event below the masters level all year: Beijing. 



    Well Liesbeth, you are not following official ATP rankings. Those 'live rankings' are not accurate. 

    If you look here: , you can see that Federer is barely ahead but he's about to drop 3000 points that he was defending from last year's Basel, Paris and London as those points are expiring. Djokovic, on the other hand is only going to lose 560 points from the same 3 tournaments from last year.


    Looking at this year's race (, it all makes sense since Novak is almost 2000 points ahead of Federer heading into London. The maximum Federer can gain back is 1500 if he goes undefeated, which would not be enough even if Novak loses all his matches in London.


     @great_escapist   Wow, you misrepresented my post as "so much negativity" even though you took issue with only 7% of my post.  Where do you get the motivation to taint posts you don't like with the faulty generalization of "so much negativity"?


    It is obvious that my views (that you quoted) referred just to Djokovic's Beijing and Shanghai titles, not to Djokovic's other tournaments in 2012. In this context, your argument that "Novak has played the most matches against other top 10 players in 2012" is as irrelevant and illogical as an argument that Federer has played and beaten the most top 10 players both in 40 years of ATP history (158-80 = 238) as well as compared to Djokovic (79-64 = 143). Fact is, your irrelevant facts are irrelevant.


    Yes, Djokovic was (a) lucky against Murray in Shanghai and (b) lucky in getting relatively easy draws in both Beijing and Shanghai:


    - Beijing had a weaker field than Tokyo that week. While in Beijing, Djokovic had an easy draw of mostly low-ranked players: No 123 Berrer, No. 50 Berlocq, No 37 Melzer, No. 29 Mayer and No. 7 Tsonga... in Tokyo, Murray had the dangerous Karlovic, Wawrinka and Raonic before the finals. It may impress you that Djokovic beat the inconsistent Tsonga for the Beijing title -- but this year Tsonga has an abysmal 1-11 win-loss record against top ten players and he is 0-6 against Djokovic in the past two years. So Beijing was an easy draw for Djokovic, especially with Tsonga.


    - Shanghai also was an easy draw for Djokovic since US Open champion and two-time Shanghai champion Murray was in the half of Rusty Federer. Before facing Murray in the final, Djokovic faced a slew of beatable players: No. 56 Dimitrov, No. 29 Lopez, No. 21 Haas and No. 7 Berdych. This was much easier than the draw Federer faced (No. 62 Lu, a favorite of Chinese fans, No. 17 Wawrinka, No. 16 Cilic and No. 3 Murray) while being mentally distracted with serial death threats against him. In the semifinal Djokovic rolled over the mentally-inconsistent Berdych (a player Novak owns 10-1) while  Murray had the emotionally tougher battle against No. 1 Federer. So Djokovic was in an advantageous position to face Murray in the next day's final.


    - Djokovic was lucky to beat Murray in the Shanghai final. Murray (mostly) choked away five matchpoints against Djokovic, most of which Andy failed to take the kill shot (e.g., see first match point). Furthermore, in the second set, Murray won his first four service games easily (without conceding duece) and was 30-0 up on his fifth service game just two points from winning the match -- so the momentum and odds were in Murray's favor to close out the match, regardless of the tweener.


    Funny, it's factually false that Djokovic "in fact played the fewest number of tournaments out of top 10 guys." Both Federer and Djokovic have played exactly 16 ATP tournaments before the World Tour Finals (which would be their 17th ATP event of 2012). Federer did not play the three Masters 1000 tournaments (Monte Carlo, Canada, Paris) and Beijing 500 that Djokovic did.


    Funny you mention that you claim Djokovic "only played one event below the masters level all year: Beijing" when the ATP lists three events below Masters level for Djokovic: Dubai, Beijing, Olympics. You can check the facts here.


    Despite the smoke of your convoluted argument, it is still obvious to everybody else that I said: (a) Djokovic won titles only on outdoor hardcourts; (b) Djokovic has failed to win any level of title on clay, grass or indoor hardcourts (i.e., he has not won on other surfaces except outdoor hardcourts); and (c) Djokovic's success this year was partly made possible by his skipping Davis Cup the entire year (in 2010, when Djokovic played the most Davis Cup of his career, he had his worst season on the ATP Tour since becoming a top 10 player).