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Beyond the Baseline

Passing Shots: Observations from a week at the ATP World Tour Finals

Novak Djokovic defended his ATP World Tour Finals title. (Julian Finney/Getty Images) Novak Djokovic defended his ATP World Tour Finals title. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

LONDON – Emptying out the notebook from a week at the ATP World Tour Finals ...

• I quite liked Novak Djokovic's explanation for his 37-1 record after the U.S. Open over the last two years. He said he sees this portion of the season as an opportunity because he knows everyone else is tired. Love that predatory instinct.

Grading the ATP World Tour Finals

• Before facing Rafael Nadal in the semifinals, Roger Federer talked about viewing himself as the underdog. "Maybe that free swinging is what I need," Federer said. That got me to thinking: Has anyone ever heard Federer say that he's played a match with nothing to lose? That's a stock phrase for most players -- even Serena Williams used it this year to describe her play against lower-ranked opponents -- but I don't think I've ever heard Federer say it. It must be such an odd idea for him to process.

• It's worth watching these clips from Federer's news conferences last week. Some very honest gems in there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0Ik31eXlXI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjxfgJiTymY

• Juan Martin del Potro is still the most underrated entertainer in the game.

• Nadal said fatigue isn't a major reason for his lack of indoor success (he hasn't won an indoor hard-court title since Madrid in 2005). I'm not convinced.

Nadal: "I like the sunshine" when playing outdoors

• Bar chat: Does it matter if Federer finishes his career with losing records against Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray? He's already sub-.500 against Nadal (10-22) and Murray (9-11), and he leads Djokovic by just one now (16-15).

• Djokovic seemed genuinely wounded to have to answer questions more than once about his lack of crowd support in London. Why haven't crowds warmed up to Djokovic over the years? Could it be that his obvious desire to be liked and embraced has backfired? What do you think?

• Camera shows famous athlete sitting courtside. Standard conversation among American press row ensues:

"Who's that?"

"I don't know."

"Must be a soccer player, then."

Ten times out of 10, it was.

• Now that Djokovic seems to be back in hunter mode, I'm more excited about the 2014 season than I was two months ago.

Game-by-game recap of Djokovic-Nadal final

• There is a tendency to roll your eyes whenever top players complain about the length of the season, only to announce they're playing multiple exhibitions in the offseason for big appearance fees. The lower-ranked players are rolling their eyes, too.

https://twitter.com/ivokarlovic/status/400716388538798080

• The Court of Arbitration for Sport's ruling on the Viktor Troicki doping ban was a hot topic last week. Djokovic fueled the fire with his 1,000-word rant about his distrust in the anti-doping machinery, which led to questions for other top players about their stance. It's admirable that Djokovic is staunchly supporting his friend, but what struck me is how willing he is to buy Troicki's story. He says his relationship with Troicki gives him clearer insight into the case, but it's precisely that closeness that undermines his credibility. He's lost faith in the testing system because he believes the doping control officer is lying about what she told Troicki when he asked to skip or delay his requested blood test. He believes she is lying because Troicki tells him she is lying.

• The ITF now says a supervisor must be available to explain to a player his or her responsibilities when asked to provide a sample. That's all well and good; the policy will protect both the player and the doping control officer, who, in the case involving Troicki, hasn't had the luxury of famous friends or a platform to provide her side of the story and defend herself from Djokovic's and Troicki's claims that she's a liar and was unprofessional and negligent. But I just have a very hard time understanding how difficult it is to know that, as a professional athlete, you have an unmitigated obligation to provide a blood or urine sample whenever one is requested.

• Bar chat, courtesy of our own Jon Wertheim:

https://twitter.com/jon_wertheim/status/400671853909254144

• Spoke to one TV producer last week who brought up a great point: With the great crowds at the O2 Arena, why do the organizers insist on lighting the court so that the fans are sitting in the dark? Would you want to show off your crowds to the viewers at home?

• It was so deadpan that I missed it the first time: Murray makes an off-color joke at the very end of this interview with Jonathan Ross.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPw8JLu8bIU

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