With 46 wins in 49 matches since the French Open, coupled with Djokovic’s undeniable slump from superhuman to mere mortal, Andy Murray consummated his No.1 status with victory last week at the Paris Masters. Not only is the Scot the new alpha-male of the ATP, he also got to walk away with this, erm, ‘lovely’ trophy…
While Murray has plenty to smile about right now, no doubt the draw for the ATP Finals has wiped just a little bit of the grin from that face; the group phase sees him line up against three of his most fierce adversaries in Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, and Marin Cilic. Ranking points are on offer for every match in the tournament up to a maximum of 1500, meaning – with blatant disregard for Murray’s forthcoming endeavour – a full-house of victories and fifth consecutive ATP Finals title for Djokovic would see the pendulum swing back in favour of the Serb and restore him to the summit for the year-end rankings.
The London ATP Finals marks the culmination of the calendar year in men’s tennis where the best of the best fight it out for – on top of sheer glory – a modest $2.391m if you win without defeat. While the spotlight is on London right now, here’s a look back at some of the more impressive stats of yesteryear entwined with some betting insight.
It can be very tempting to bet on the favourite when he finds himself a set down and his odds have inflated. However, in 2016 only two players came away with a winning record after going a set down, unsurprisingly Murray (6W-5L) and Djokovic (8-7). Thiem takes bronze with a more than respectable 16-20 record. 2016 has been a coming-of-age year for the Austrian and despite somewhat tailing off after the French Open, nobody can deny he is worthy of his spot. Making up the top-ten in this category is Nishikori (11-14), Tsonga (9-14), Goffin (12-19), Bautista Agut (10-16), Wawrinka (8-13), Pouille (11-18) and A.Zverev (9-17). On the flipside, when analysing players’ winning records after taking the first set, look no further than…. you didn’t guess it: Tomas Berdych. The Czech player has gone on to win all 35 matches after taking the first. Djokovic (53-1), Thiem (42-2), Murray (67-4) and Del Potro (26-2), haven’t done too badly either.
Everyone loves backing the underdog. When looking for a pre-match bet on a ‘dog in a big match, this season’s standout player was Jack Sock. The American has managed a string of scalps against top-ten opposition, including his thumping of pre-match favourite Dominic Thiem in straight sets last week in Paris, dispatching the Austrian in 57 minutes. A couple of weeks back in China, he ousted Raonic, the 1.38 favourite going into the tie. At the US Open, Marin Cilic was priced at 1.34 for their third round encounter, but the Croatian failed to register a single set as Sock dominated proceedings in front of the home crowd. Sock is arguably one of the most frustrating players on the tour given his unquestionable ability yet stifling inconsistency. When he turns up and that forehand is in full flow, he is a force to be reckoned with whoever may be across the net.
To be a champion you need to be able to perform under pressure, producing your best tennis in clutch moments. Kei Nishikori holds the all time record for final set deciders, with an outrageous 99W-27L record. This season the standout performer in this category is that man again, Dominic Thiem, winning a staggering 19 final sets to 2 losses, the latter including a 2-1 loss to A. Zverev in Beijing last month. This may well be indicative that Thiem is a slow starter in matches, or perhaps takes his foot off the pedal after winning the first, but if his matches reach a decisive set, you’d be ill-advised to back his opponent. Extend this to Grand Slams and France’s Lucas Pouille reigns supreme with a flawless 4-0 record when going the distance. Three of those came back-to-back at this years US Open, including his epic showdown with Rafael Nadal. The Frenchman silenced any doubters who thought his run at Wimbledon was a fluke with another Grand Slam quarter-final at Flushing Meadows and later his maiden title in Metz. Much like Thiem’s accomplishments this year, we wouldn’t bet against Pouille pushing on in 2017 and featuring in London this time next year
Focus back on London and we see value for glory at the O2 Arena next week in Marin Cilic and Kei Nishikori. Murray has never fared well at the finals and Djokovic, despite his track record in years gone by, has been a shadow of his former self. Cilic comes into this tournament in fine form following his recent Basel title (d. K. Nishikori) as well as brushing aside Djokovic in straights en route to the Paris semi’s. Cilic also has a knack of performing well against the big guns, his record this year stands at 6 wins to 3 losses against top-ten opponents.
Nishikori has also shown he can beat the very best on the big stage. He is, if anything, in danger of being remembered for just this – beating both Djokovic and Murray at close to their peaks in the past few years at Flushing Meadows – rather than being a top-tier trophy collector. The O2 Arena provides a great opportunity for him to add a first major trophy to his growing pile of big name scalps.
And so the lights will soon descend on the crowd as the laser blue surface lights up. The pumping beat of London Calling may have (sadly) been replaced by whatever the song of the day is, but no bother, the anticipation of felt-bashing of the highest order will be palpable come Sunday afternoon. Let’s ‘ave it.