The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, all eyes are in London as the ATP finishes its season at the World Tour Finals.
LONDON -- Walk around the O2 Arena and you're bombarded by a message that signals both finality and relief: "It All Ends Here."
The 10-month ATP season culminates this week at the ATP World Tour Finals, where the top eight men will compete under the lights for the last title of the season. The tournament is both spectacle and celebration, as tennis returns to London for the first time since Wimbledon for an event that may not have the posh feel of the All England Club, but still has a reverent vibe that you can only get on this side of the Pond.
On Saturday, the ATP's Elite Eight were drawn into two groups for round-robin play, with the top two from each group advancing to the semifinals:
Group A: Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych, and Stanislas Wawrinka.
Group B: Novak Djokovic, Juan Martin del Potro, Roger Federer, and Richard Gasquet.
Here are the storylines to watch:
Djokovic can still retake the No. 1 ranking: For the first time since 2009, the No. 1 ranking is on the line at the World Tour Finals. Djokovic has done everything he can possibly do to prevent Nadal from clinching the year-end No. 1 ranking before London. He's undefeated since the U.S. Open (17-0), having won the China Open, Shanghai Masters and Paris Masters over the last five weeks. During that time, he went 6-0 against the London field.
To finish the task, Djokovic will need some help from Nadal. Djokovic can retake the top ranking by going undefeated at the World Tour Finals and winning both singles matches at the Davis Cup final a week later and hoping Nadal doesn't win two matches at the World Tour Finals. That's a tough task, given Nadal has been drawn into the easier group (he's 20-5 against Ferrer, hasn't lost to Berdych in 15 matches dating to 2007 and is 11-0 against Wawrinka), while Djokovic must contend with both del Potro and Federer just to make it out of his group.
Federer coming in hot: Or at least as hot as he's been all season. With most of the talk going into the indoor season centering on Federer's continuing string of disappointing results and split with Paul Annacone, the Swiss played two good tournaments in a row on the indoor courts that he loves. He made the final of the Swiss Indoors, his first final since mid-June, losing to del Potro in three sets. A week later, he was in the semifinals of the Paris Indoors, where he lost in three sets Djokovic.
Nadal trying to cap his season with his first World Tour Finals title: Once again, the fall season hasn't been as good to Nadal as the rest of the year. Since the U.S. Open he's played three tournaments and made one final (China Open), suffering losses to Djokovic, del Potro and Ferrer. How he'll fare in London is tough to predict. He played a surprisingly loose match to lose to Ferrer at the Paris Masters.
Del Potro as party-crasher: He may not have his prized rosary to help him through the tournament, but he's been the second-best player this fall behind Djokovic, with titles at the Tokyo Open and Swiss Indoors, as well as a runner-up finish at the Shanghai Masters. Drawn into the tougher Group B, his round-robin matches against Djokovic and Federer are appointment TV.
Berdych has an eye on the Davis Cup final: For both Berdych and Djokovic, the season doesn't end in London. They have the Davis Cup final between Serbia and the Czech Republic to worry about a week later. Both will be looking to play a high level here while also keeping their bodies intact for the final. It's a particularly meaningful Davis Cup final for Berdych, who has had a consistent season -- he reached a career-high No. 5 in August -- in which he hasn't won a title. Still, he's a good dark-horse pick to make it out of Group A and reach the semifinals for the second time.
Gasquet back for the first time: It's been six years since Gasquet's last (and only) appearance at the World Tour Finals, in 2007, when he was 21 and the tournament was held in Shanghai. Now 27, he's had the best season of his career, highlighted by three titles and a run to the semifinals of the U.S. Open. That said, he's the odd man out in Group B, just 4-24 against Djokovic, Federer and del Potro.
Wawrinka the rookie: It's been a fantastic season for Wawrinka, who makes his World Tour Finals debut this week. His season has been highlighted not just by consistency but memorable matches that are still discussed among the tennis cognoscenti, such as his five-set losses to Djokovic at the Australian Open and U.S. Open. The question is whether there's enough in the tank for Wawrinka to summon his explosive brand of tennis. Much like Gasquet, he's had to work very hard late in the season to secure his qualification to London.
Ferrer finding his hard-court form: The Spaniard is at a career-high No. 3 and will finish the season ahead of Wimbledon champion Andy Murray. Yet heading into the Paris Masters he had not beaten a top-10 player since the French Open and had suffered some surprising losses this fall to to the likes of Florian Mayer, Mikhail Youzhny and Grigor Dimitrov. But all that seemed to change in Paris, where he defeated Nadal in straight sets to make the final for the second year in a row. If he can continue that form in London he should make the semifinals.
Semifinals: Nadal vs. Federer; Djokovic vs. Ferrer Final: Djokovic d. Nadal.