The draw for next week's ATP World Tour Finals was completed in London on Monday and it puts Novak Djokovic in good position to finish the season at No. 1. The eight player field was drawn into two groups and, as the luck of the draw would have it, all of 2014's Slam champions -- except for Rafael Nadal, who was forced to skip the tournament after being diagnosed with appendicitis -- landed in Group A.
Here's how the groups broke down:
- No. 1 Novak Djokovic
- No. 4 Stan Wawrinka
- No. 7 Tomas Berdych
- No. 9 Marin Cilic
- No. 2 Roger Federer
- No. 5 Kei Nishikori
- No. 6 Andy Murray
- No. 8 Milos Raonic
The tournament begins on Sunday with Group B kicking off play. Murray will face Nishikori during the afternoon session and Federer will play Raonic at night.
Djokovic the favorite to three-peat: The two-time defending champion has to love his draw. The only player in Group A he's lost to this year is Wawrinka, who beat him at the Australian Open back in January. Otherwise, he's a combined 41-5 against the three, with a 10-0 record against Cilic. To top it off, he beat three of the four men in Group B -- Murray, Nishikori, and Raonic -- easily last week in Paris.
Unpredictable Slam winners set the tone for Group A: With Djokovic the favorite to come out of Group A, who will take the second semifinal spot between Wawrinka, Berdych and Cilic? On form, it's hard not to like Berdych, who is coming off a title in Stockholm and a semifinal run in Bercy, where he lost in three sets to Raonic. Playing in his fifth ATP Finals, the Czech has the experience too.
Cilic won an ATP 250 event in Moscow a few weeks ago and then skipped Bercy with a right arm injury. He doesn't have a winning record against anyone in the group, though he is 2-1 against Berdych this season with both wins coming at the Slams (Wimbledon, U.S. Open). Cilic loves it indoors and if he can find that form and confidence that took him to the title in New York, he's the dark horse to take that No. 2 spot.
A semifinalist in his debut last year, it's impossible to know what to expect from Wawrinka. The Australian Open champion could finish outside the top five if he can't make a dent in London. Since the U.S. Open he has won just one match -- a straight set win over No. 37 Dominic Thiem -- while registering three first round exits to No. 103 Tatsuma Ito (Tokyo), No. 29 Gilles Simon (Shanghai) and No. 84 Mikhail Kukushkin (Basel). His win over Thiem last week in Bercy ended his 0-3 skid, but he lost in the next round after serving for the match against Kevin Anderson.
What gives Djokovic the edge in London, aside from his current streak of 27 consecutive matches won on indoor hard courts, is he's the most well-rested of the entire eight-man field. Since the U.S. Open he's played just three tournaments, with a couple weeks off between Shanghai and Bercy. Everyone else has either been chasing qualification (Murray, Nishikori, Berdych, Raonic), the year-end No. 1 (Federer), or heading into London with questions of form and fitness (Wawrinka, Cilic). If he goes 3-0 in group play or makes the final with at least one win in group play, he'll clinch the year-end No. 1 ranking.
Slam-less Group B is wide open: Federer has been drawn into a tough group full of players (including himself) who have found their form during the fall season. The six-time champion last won the event in 2011 and has qualified out his group every year he's qualified except for in 2008, when he was hampered by a back injury. This year he has tricky path.
Murray, who could finish back in the top four with a good tournament, is 11-11 against Federer, though the Swiss has won both their meetings this year. Federer will also have to deal with Nishikori, who has a 2-2 head-to-head against the Swiss. They've split their two meetings this year -- Nishikori won in Miami and Federer won on grass in Halle. Then there's Raonic, who earned the biggest win of his career last week when he beat Federer for the first time in straight sets. Federer looked tired in Paris after winning titles in Shanghai and Basel, but the week off should recharge his battery. Overall he's 19-14 against his group.
Federer is still the favorite to qualify out of the group, but the fight for the No. 2 spot will be fierce. While Murray has never had problems with Nishikori (3-0), he's struggled against Raonic, having lost three of their four matches. While Raonic may have the upper hand on Murray, Nishikori has the edge on the Canadian, posting a 4-1 head-to-head record against Raonic after winning three of their four matches this season.
Keeping watch on the tournament debutantes: Cilic, Nishikori and Raonic are making their much-deserved tournament debuts after breakout seasons. Cilic became one of the most surprising Slam winners in over a decade when he won the U.S. Open in September, while Nishikori has been checking off milestone after milestone after his first Slam final appearance and a career-high No. 5 ranking. As for Raonic, his consistent season paid off with his first Slam semifinal at Wimbledon. Cilic and Raonic will always be dangerous in a best-of-three tournament with their monster serves and Nishikori has proven he has the game to beat anyone on any given day. They could play the spoilers.
Bob and Mike Bryan look for their fourth year-end title: The twins have already clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking and won title No. 102 last week in Bercy, their ninth title of the season. They top the eight team doubles field, which includes Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic (who are playing their final tournament as a team), French Open champions Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin and Australian Open champions Robert Lindstedt and Lukasz Kubot.
Here's how the groups broke down:
- Bob Bryan/Mike Bryan
- Alexander Peya/Bruno Soares
- Jean-Julien Rojer/Horia Tecau
- Lukasz Kubot/Robert Lindstedt
- Daniel Nestor/Nenad Zimonjic
- Julien Benneteau/Edouard Roger-Vasselin
- Marcel Grannollers/Marc Lopez
- Ivan Dodig/Marcelo Melo
The Bryans are looking to win their first World Tour Finals title since 2009. Last year's champions, Fernando Verdasco and David Marrero, did not qualify.