Rafael Nadal is number one in the men’s tennis world rankings and favourite to win the ATP Tour Finals in London in November. The season finale for which only the top eight players in the standings are eligible will most likely be missing a major draw as Andy Murray is doubtful for the event following an operation for a back injury.
The potential non-appearance of Murray means Roger Federer will have a better chance of qualifying for the climax of the individual men’s season at the O2 Arena. Federer’s Grand Slam winning days are probably behind him but can still be competitive indoors so should not be dismissed as he tries to win the event for the seventh time in his career.
Two of Federer’s titles were won in London at the venue formerly known as the Millennium Dome. He clearly has positive mental associations with the city as he also won seven Wimbledon titles at the courts on the outskirts of the capital. The other winners at the O2 Arena were Novak Djokovic last year and Nikolay Davydenko in 2009.
The ATP World Tour Finals are the season ending championships of the men’s circuit. The event features the top eight singles players and doubles teams in the rankings at the end of the regular season. The players are divided into two groups of four and play round robin matches against the other three members of the group. The two players with the best results in each group progress to two semi-finals, the winners of which contest the final.
Nadal became the first player to qualify after wining the French Open in June. Novak Djokovic is also guaranteed a place and the only other player certain of an invite as at the end of September is Murray. His option will probably not be taken up and Federer could be the main beneficiary. At the time of writing the Swiss player is sixth in the standings and needs a strong Asian Swing and indoor season to secure a spot in London.
The Tour Finals are the culmination of almost eleven months of competitive tennis. In most weeks there are at least two tournaments, the exceptions being when the Grand Slams are played and ties in the Davis Cup. The Challenger Tour also provides almost year long opportunities for players at the second level of the game.
The season is structured around four levels of competition, based on prize money and world ranking points on offer. The 250 tournaments have fields of just 32 players; the 500 events are stronger while the nine Masters events are just a step down from the majors, of which there are four each with unique playing conditions.
The Australian Open is played outdoors on hardcourts in the city of Melbourne starting in late January. The tournament is characterised by extreme temperatures and fitness is a prerequisite for any player who is looking to contend. The first Grand Slam of the season is the culmination of an Australasian swing which actually begins right at the end of the previous year.
The French Open is played on clay over two weeks at the end of May and start of June. Clay is a slow surface on which the ball bounces higher and means long rallies are the norm so stamina and fitness are again key. Matches of over four hours are common but the relatively moderate temperatures lessen the physical demands of this major.
Wimbledon is the most prestigious tournament in the world. It is played on grass on courts in south west London but is most susceptible to the weather despite its date in the diary at the height of the summer in late June and early July. A recent development has been the construction of a roof over the iconic Centre Court which means the host broadcaster can continue to show live tennis even rain is falling outside.
The final of the four Grand Slams is the US Open, played at the end of August in New York. The surface is hardcourts at an outdoor complex and one of the attractions is night matches played under lights before a noisy New York crowd. Uniquely the final is now played on the Monday of a third week to make it fairer to the winners of the two semi-finals as both now have at least one full day to prepare.
The Davis Cup is different to the regular tournaments and majors as it is a team competition played in a group and knock out format. Each tie is played over five “rubbers”, two singles on the first day, a doubles match the next day and reverse singles on the third and final day. Matches are played over the best of five sets, though sometimes just three if the outcome is decided before the last day singles.
The competition began in 1900 as a challenge match between Great Britain and the United States. By 2013 130 countries took part, divided into groups and zones. The top 16 countries play in the World Group with the rest divided into four other levels of competition. Promotion and relegation determines in which group each country competes and there is a pyramid the pinnacle of which is the annual final of the Davis Cup, played at the end of the regular season.
Plating at home can be a huge advantage in the Davis Cup. The host team choose the surface and venue or arena. Significant travelling support is rare which means most of the crowd will be backing the hosts so winning away from home is difficult, especially in the World Group. Tie breaks are now used in all sets except the fifth which is won with a margin of two games.
The Davis Cup World Group Final takes place in the middle of November and marks the end of a long season. However, it all begins again just six weeks later when the cycle reconvenes in Australia with the build up to the first Grand Slam of the new year. Before long the spring and summer majors are being anticipated and then the autumn season begins with the US Open in New York. And then we are back to the Davis Cup final and the wheel keeps spinning.