Drysdale Says Federer Will Hold off Nadal to be Year-End No. 1
The top eight men’s tennis players in the world are playing this week in London for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals to determine the year-end no. 1 ranking and ESPN360.com and ESPN2 will be there for the semifinals and final. Broadband ESPN360.com will present one semifinal live Saturday, Nov. 28, at either 9:30 a.m. ET or 2 p.m. ESPN2 will show that match Sunday, Nov. 29, at 8 a.m. and the final, simulcast on ESPN360.com, live at 9:30 a.m. Cliff Drysdale and Darren Cahill will be courtside at the O2 Arena to call the action.
Roger Federer is the top-ranked player entering the round-robin event, but Rafael Nadal, who last year broke Federer’s four-year streak as the year-end #1 player, can overtake Federer, depending on how each performs. Others in the field are returnees Andy Murray, defending event winner Novak Djokovic, US Open champ Juan Martin del Potro and Nikolay Davydenko, along with Fernando Verdasco and Robin Soderling who are each making their first appearance at the season finale. Soderling, who this year became the first player ever to defeat Nadal at the French Open, is a late replacement for Andy Roddick, who withdrew because of injury.
Competition for #1
As the No. 1 and No. 2 players in the world, Federer – who has won six Wimbledon crowns across town from the O2 Arena among his record 15 Grand Slam event championships – and Nadal, who took the Wimbledon title in 2008 and the Australian Open this year to reach six major titles for his career, will not meet in the round-robin stage, as they will be the highest seeds in their respective groups. But if they meet in the semifinals, then that match could go a long way to determining who will be crowned 2009 ATP World Tour Champion.
Federer’s group also has Murray, del Potro and Verdasco, while Nadal will contend with Djokovic, Davydenko and Soderling before the semifinals.
Federer’s quest to win the battle has historical significance. Only one player in the history of the ATP Rankings has ever held, lost and then regained the ATP World Tour Champion title. Ivan Lendl held the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking 1985-87 and finished second behind Mats Wilander in 1988 before reclaiming top spot at the end of 1989.
Cliff Drysdale, the former elite player who has been with ESPN 30 years, since its first tennis telecast in September 1979, says Federer will hold off Nadal to regain the prestigious year-end no. 1 ranking:
“Even though he is in the tougher group, with del Potro and Murray, Roger Federer will play well enough to hold off Nadal and end the year no. 1,” Drysdale says. “It’s deserved because he’s had the better year, appearing in all four Grand Slam finals, winning the French for the first time and reclaiming the Wimbledon crown for a record 15th major title. That’s quite a year.
“There’s always a dominant player in tennis and that’s been Rog for a long time. There is, of course, a change coming, but not quite yet. The tennis community had written Federer off after the Australian Open, but there was a ‘swing in the Spring.’ A major swing. When Federer beat Nadal on clay in Madrid it gave him confidence for the French Open and confidence to chase history – the record for Grand Slam titles. It had grown elusive, but he caught it at Wimbledon. That said, the field is getting closer, and not just Nadal. I see a top six in our sport – Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, del Potro, Murrray and Roddick, who unfortunately won’t compete in London, the site of his heroic effort at Wimbledon – separate from the rest of the field.
“It will be interesting to see who steps up. In addition to the prestige of winning this event, there’s the very practical matter of the ranking points at stake. There’s almost as many points on the line here as a major, and they’ll be on each player’s scorecard for 52 weeks. So this event not only concludes 2009 but is critical for how the players enter 2010, both mentally and statistically.“