The culmination of the men’s tennis season came on Sunday, as Novak Djokovic faced Roger Federer in the ATP World Tour Finals. Djokovic overcame Federer in straight sets, winning 6-3, 6-4, to claim the tournament championship for an unprecedented fourth time in a row. Djokovic, who ends the season ranked number 1 in the world, has now won the ATP World Tour Finals five times: equal with Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl, but one behind Federer, who took the trophy six times between 2003 and 2011 and has on four occasions finished runner-up.
* * *
The ATP World Tour Finals are held each year in November, on indoor hard courts at the O2 Arena in London. The prestigious curtain-closing tournament of the tennis calendar, they bring together the eight best-qualified players in the men’s game over the course of the season. In practise this means the top seven players according to the ATP rankings, then any 2015 Grand Slam winner ranked between 8th and 20th: if no Grand Slam winner meets the criteria, the eighth slot goes to the player ranked eighth in the rankings.
Unlike all other events on the men’s tour, the ATP World Tour Finals make use of a round robin format, whereby the eight qualifiers are split into two groups of four. They compete in matches against the other three players in their group, the two with the best records progressing to the semi-finals and then on to the final.
With a total prize fund of $6 million, the winner of the tournament can earn a maximum of $1.92 million if he manages to triumph in all three of his group matches. 1,500 ATP ranking points are available for the overall winner, more than at any event beyond the four Grand Slams, which offer 2,000 points.
* * *
The top eight players in the ATP rankings made it unfettered to the 2015 iteration of the tournament. These were, in order, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Stan Wawrinka, Rafael Nadal, Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer, and Kei Nishikori.
Djokovic, Federer, Berdych, and Nishikori made up ‘Group Stan Smith’, while Murray, Wawrinka, Nadal, and Ferrer made up ‘Group Ilie Nastase’.
In the former group, Federer emerged at the head of the standings, winning all three of his group matches – losing a solitary set to Nishikori, and beating Djokovic 7-5, 6-2. Djokovic qualified in second place with two victories. And Berdych departed without a group win to his name, succumbing to Nishikori 7-5, 3-6, 6-3.
In the latter, an opening match victory over Ferrer was as good as it got for Murray, who then lost in straight sets to Nadal and Wawrinka. Murray perhaps has other things on his mind: a Davis Cup Final in Ghent next weekend, as Great Britain take on Belgium; while he and his wife are also expecting their first child.
A resurgent Nadal also dispatched Wawrinka in straight sets, and both men beat Ferrer to finish respectively in first and second place in their group. Nadal has endured a difficult season, the first since 2005 which he concludes without a Grand Slam: he made the quarter finals at the Australian Open and French Open, then only the second round at Wimbledon and the third at the US Open, but can take some encouragement in his form over the past week.
In the semi-finals, Federer overcame his compatriot Wawrinka 7-5, 6-3. And Djokovic bested Nadal more comfortably still, 6-3, 6-3, setting the Serbian on course for his forty-fourth meeting with his Swiss rival, with Federer leading the series 22-21.
David Nalbandian won the ATP World Tour Finals in 2005, and Nikolay Davydenko in 2009. Otherwise Federer and Djokovic have dominated the past decade of the tournament. Djokovic’s victory concludes another remarkable season for the twenty-eight year old.
While much of the the tennis talk in 2015 has centred on Serena Williams, who completed a second ‘Serena Slam’ – winning the four Grand Slam tournaments back-to-back – at Wimbledon, it was Djokovic who came closest to attaining a season Grand Slam – the feat of winning all four Grand Slam tournaments in a single calendar year.
Serena faltered in the semi-finals at the US Open, while Djokovic won in Melbourne, London, and New York, and reached the final too in Paris, but lost out in four sets to a resplendent Stan Wawrinka. Still, three Grand Slam titles in a year is a rare achievement: only Rod Laver in the Open Era, in 1969, can claim a season Grand Slam; while three Grand Slam singles tournaments in a year have been claimed by Jimmy Connors in 1974, Roger Federer in 2004, 2006, and 2007, and Djokovic himself once before in 2011.
The men’s doubles tournament at the ATP World Tour Finals – which works on the same principle as the singles with a group phase followed by semis and a final – was won by the pair of Jean-Julien Rojer and Horia Tecau, who beat Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea 6-4, 6-3 in the final. Rojer and Tecau, seeded number 2, had beaten the number-1-seeded Bryan brothers 6-4, 6-4 in the semis.
* * *
The WTA Finals, at the Singapore Indoor Stadium between 25 October and 1 November, were without world number 1 and five-time victor Serena Williams, who exempted herself citing the need to recover from accumulated injuries. In her place, Simona Halep entered the tournament as the first seed, followed by Garbine Muguruza, Maria Sharapova, Petra Kvitova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber, Flavia Pennetta – the 2015 US Open Champion – and Lucie Safarova. Timea Bacsinszky and Venus Williams, ranked 10th and 11th, just missed out.
The climax of the women’s tennis season, the WTA Finals and the ATP World Tour Finals follow precisely the same round robin format. The women’s event offers 1,500 WTA ranking points to the prospective winner, and a total prize fund of $7 million.
In unusual circumstances, with three victories apiece, Sharapova topped the ‘Red Group’ and Muguruza the ‘White Group’ – but all the other competitors in the tournament finished the group phase with one victory and two defeats. Thanks to better set and game win-loss percentages, Radwanska progressed from the ‘Red Group’ and Kvitova from the ‘White Group’, moving on towards the semi-finals.
These saw a turnaround in fortunes. Kvitova beat Sharapova decisively, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), and Radwanska beat Muguruza over three hard-fought sets, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 7-5. Then in the final, Radwanska prevailed, becoming WTA Finals champion for the first time in her career with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory.
In the doubles at the WTA Finals, the duo of Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza demolished Garbine Muguruza and Carla Suarez Navarro 6-0, 6-3 in the final. Mirza and Hingis are the world numbers 1 and 2 respectively in the women’s doubles rankings, having triumphed together this year at Wimbledon and the US Open.