Novak Djokovic lost to fellow Serb Janko Tipsarevic and finished round-robin play with a 1-2 record. (Tony O'Brien/ZUMA PRESS)
Swooping in: Confusion reigned Friday as fans and pundits tried to wrap their head around the idea that Tomas Berdych could win Group A despite the fact that David Ferrer had not dropped a set all week. To put it simply, here's how it works: If two players have the same record through the round-robin stage, the head-to-head determines who goes through. So if Ferrer beat Berdych, Djokovic and Berdych would be tied at 1-2 and since Djokovic won their match, he would be through. But if Berdych beat Ferrer, Berdych and Ferrer would be tied at 2-1, and since Berdych won their match, he would finish at the top of the group. Make sense? Not really, but that's what the rules say.
So leave it to Berdych, who spent most of his week either choking away matches or on the verge of choking away matches, to somehow find himself the winner of Group A after a solid win over Ferrer, 3-6,7-5, 6-1. Ferrer was up a set and a break before experiencing some serious service woes that let Berdych back into the match. To the Czech's credit, he held his nerve throughout the match, something he was unable to do earlier in the week against Djokovic. His forays to the net were contained, calm, and effective, putting pressure on the Spaniard to come up with the goods. Ferrer couldn't and Berdych cruised in the final set.
With that, Berdych went from being the odd-man out to being the man to beat out of Group A. The reward? Avoiding Federer in the semifinals. He'll face Tsonga on Saturday.
Tapped out: I'm not saying in the least that it was intentional, but boy, Novak Djokovic did everything in his power to try and avoid qualifying for the World Tour Finals semifinals (seriously, the ATP has to change the name of this thing. It's a horrible acronym and it makes for clunky phrases). He gave Tomas Berdych a match point against him on Monday, and Berdych muffed it. He lost horribly in straight sets to David Ferrer on Wednesday. And today, after taking the first set in rather authoritative fashion from Janko Tipsarevic, Djokovic went on to drop the match, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. And yet even then he wasn't assured of not qualifying.
Via an odd combination of events that included Andy Murray's withdrawal and two unconverted match points -- namely, Berdych's against Djokovic and Tipsarevic's against Berdych -- Djokovic would still advance to the semiss to play Roger Federer if Ferrer beat Berdych on Friday night. It was an odd scenario, particularly in light of Djokovic admitting, much like Rafael Nadal did on Thursday night, that he was fatigued and, well, had that "unfresh" feeling.
When asked what was missing from his game now that was present during his 10-month blitz through the season, Djokovic had a one word answer: "Freshness".
"It's just that the body says that it's overload," Djokovic continued. "It's been too much this year. Obviously mentally I feel a little bit drained, as well. I just don't have that freshness in my mind for the matches and I don't have these dynamics that I had in all 10 months of the year. But this is something to be expected after a year that I had. And now, if I play here, I play more. Tomorrow, if I don't, I look forward to go for a much needed rest."
Djokovic's fatigue, as with Nadal's, is completely understandable and no one can begrudge them their desire for the season to end. But isn't the situation also disappointing (Note: I'm saying the situation is disappointing, not the players)? We've now had two of the best athletes in the world say, on back to back days, that they're simply over it. They can't be bothered to compete. That's as good a reason as any for the ATP brass to take a hard look at the calendar. Sure, people can point to Nadal and say that he voluntarily overplayed. But Djokovic didn't. He skipped Monte Carlo, for example, and took a break in the fall. All I'm saying is that the World Tour Finals is supposed to be the fifth-most prestigious event of the year and the top guys can't motivate to play it. From a fan perspective, that's tremendously disappointing.
Tipping point: Let's pause for a moment and give a standing ovation to Tipsarevic. The Serb came into the year ranked No. 49 and having never won a tournament. He had come close many times, making five finals before this year, but he had come up short every time. But Tipsarevic, perhaps inspired by his countryman's ridiculous run throughout the year, kept plugging away. He finally captured his first title in Kuala Lumpur this fall, then followed that up with a win in St. Petersberg. All of a sudden, more so than any other time in his career, Tipsarevic believed. That belief helped him score his first win over a reigning No. 1 with his 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 win over Djokovic on Friday. He'll be one of the few players who can say they ended their 2011 season with a win. It will be interesting if he can carry the form through to 2011.
• Federer vs. Ferrer: I would have had a completely different read on this match 24 hours ago compared to now. Ferrer appeared as in-form as anyone for most of the week, but then he completely went off the rails in the latter stages of his match against Berdych. Granted, everyone can have their off-days and struggle at times, but Ferrer is very much a confidence player. I wonder what's going on in his head after playing so well against Murray and Djokovic, only to collapse against Berdych and now face Federer, who he hasn't beaten in 11 tries, less than 24 hours later. It can't be good. I would expect Fed to cruise to the final.
A Federer win would be huge. Most immediately, he would take back what Andy Murray killed himself to obtain in the fall season: The No. 3 ranking. In addition, he would notch his 806th career win, tying him with Stefan Edberg for sixth all-time on the career wins list. he would also become on the third player to reach the year-end finals seven or more times (Lendl reached nine, Becker eight). And he would become the fifth player to reach 100 career tour-finals in the Open Era. • Berdych vs. Tsonga: Can we have a shrink on hand in this one? Two of the most talented, most explosive, most headcasey players on Tour will clash in the other semifinal, and your guess is as good as mine. Oddly, the two have only played twice, with Berdych winning in three sets last month in Beijing. I've been impressed with both their maturity this week, but I think Tsonga's win over Nadal was huge for his mindset and confidence. Another Tsonga/Federer clash? Bring it.