Wednesday November 12th, 2014

LONDON -- Through the first four days of the tournament, the ATP World Tour Finals have been a snoozefest. And no one seems to know why. 

For the fourth straight day, it was nothing but one-way traffic at the O2 Arena. Tomas Berdych rolled past U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic 6-3, 6-1 during the day session. No. 1 Novak Djokovic then handed No. 4 Stan Wawrinka his worst loss on the ATP Tour ever, winning 12 of the last 13 games to win 6-3, 6-0. Through eight matches there have now been six 6-1 sets, one 6-0 set, and only two sets have reached the 5-all mark. The eight matches have lasted a grand total of eight hours and 26 minutes, an average of just an hour and three minutes per match. Given that tickets are going for over $100 a pop, that's not a lot of value per ticket, though it should be noted that the doubles competition has been compelling so far. On the whole, the players are just as perplexed as fans and commentators.

"I don't have any explanation," said Wawrinka. The No. 3 seed laid a beatdown on Berdych on Monday, winning 6-1, 6-1 in 58 minutes, only to take a rough loss to Djokovic on Wednesday night. "I think it's a big surprise for everybody. For us also. It's so strange because this year everybody before the tournament was expecting some big matches because was more surprise during all the year with me winning Grand Slam, Cilic also, RaonicNishikori being there. So everybody was expecting some big match. But apparently Novak is playing really well. Roger also."

Indeed, only Djokovic and Federer have been able to consistently deliver high-quality tennis over their first two matches. Djokovic has lost just five games to the U.S. Open and Australian Open champions. Federer has taken out the ATP's two young rising stars in Nishikori and Raonic with relative ease. But Cilic has won no more than four games in either of his matches. Raonic, in his ATP Finals debut, has yet to win a set. Murray and Nishikori have had to win ugly to just get to a 1-1 record, while Wawrinka's game has gone the way of his season, hitting the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. 

"Of course, since it's the tournament of the best eight players in the world, people, fans, the crowd expect to see a little bit more excitement and longer matches," Djokovic said. "So far we didn't have any three‐settersI think that's going to change as the tournament progresses." But three-setters haven't been the only problem in London. A two-set match can still offer compelling, high-quality tennis. The problem for the tournament so far is that the matches have been snoozy routs. 

The easy explanation is fatigue. It's the last tour-level tournament of a long and grueling season, and a majority of the field had to play hard through the fall in order to secure their spots in the tournament. Murray, Nishikori, Berdych and Raonic didn't qualify for the tournament until two weeks ago in Bercy. On a medium to slow paced indoor hard court, that lack of form has been magnified. Cilic comes into the tournament rusty after not playing a tournament for three weeks. 

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Murray stays alive with win over Raonic, Federer beats Nishikori

"I feel a little bit tired, and body feels a little bit tired on the court," Cilic said. "It seems that the things that I'm doing that are all basically going in a wrong direction. Especially with these guys at this kind of level, even small mistakes, or if you're not at your best performances, the outcome is not going to be going in your favor." 

​Federer and Murray pointed to the court conditions. Indoor hard courts are generally thought of as being fast courts, but the court at the O2 is a tough one to gauge. Some players say it's fast. Others say it's slow. But one thing that has been clear so far is it's not rewarding big servers and hitters.

"I think it's actually quite simple, in my opinion, because the court plays somewhat slow, and the serve doesn't have that much of an impact depending on you how back it up, your serve," Federer said. "I think it's very much a game of movement and the baseline game. Whoever's better from the baseline has the upper hand, then dominates. I think that's why we're seeing heavy scorelines, because it's just hard to serve your way out of trouble. It's almost not possible time and time again."

Said Cilic: "The conditions feel a little bit heavy and hard, like to be able with one shot to make a winner. I feel I'm not getting the best out of my game. Also, the body's maybe on a lower level than usual."

Federer cautioned against having too high of expectations of the players early in the tournament. Tennis players aren't accustomed to having to play their absolute best in the first round of a tournament, let alone having to face a Top 10 player right out of the gate. His Davis Cup teammate disagreed somewhat. The fact is, these are the eight best players in the world. "The expectations are right because that's the top eight, actually nine, players of the year who are playing the best tennis," Wawrinka said. "If you look all the past years, it was always some good match, some tough one, three‐setter match. This year is really a big surprise I think for everybody to see those matches [go] so quick."

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