By Chris Kermode, Special to Gulf News
London: As the 2005 ATP World Tour season headed towards it finale, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were locked in a tense battle for the season ending No. 1 position on the Emirates ATP Rankings. Now, incredibly, a full 12 years later, the two are once again duelling for the top position.
Federer won that race in 2005 and that began a six-year period where either the Swiss or the Spaniard finished as year-end No. 1. Now both bona fide superstars of the game are in their 30s but with careful schedule management and attention to health and fitness, the two are proving that experience really does count.
Nadal, as we all know, became the first to qualify for this year’s Nitto ATP Finals after a 24-1 clay court season that will live on in tennis history as one of the greatest clay court performances of all time, culminating in his tenth French Open title at Roland Garros.
Spurred on by that dazzling display, Federer, who sat out the clay court swing, promptly stepped up on his favourite surface of grass, winning a record ninth Gerry Weber Open at Halle, seeing off rising young superstar Alexander Zverev in the final.
And then, like Nadal in Paris, Federer made his own history going on to a record-breaking eighth singles title at the All England Club at Wimbledon, charging to his 19th career Grand Slam title without dropping a single set. Along the way, the Swiss master served his 10,000th ace.
Federer’s win over Marin Cilic in the final saw him break free from a tie with Pete Sampras to become the first male player ever to win eight titles at Wimbledon and, in the process, he wrote yet another stellar chapter in the remarkable history of his incredible career. At almost 36 years of age, Federer is arguably playing better than ever and clearly still loves playing the game. His stunning victory only served to further emphasise that fact.
There was also a very significant run in doubles that should be recognised by the talented team of Marcelo Melo and Lukasz Kubot, who went 15-0 during the grass court swing. The run culminated with victory in the doubles final at Wimbledon and during their advance to the final Melo reclaimed the No. 1 position on the Emirates ATP Doubles ranking.
While Federer dominated the grass court swing there were still some very notable performances during the short but always exciting season. Novak Djokovic showed he is regaining the form that saw him dominate the game when he broke through for his first season win at the Aegon International at Eastbourne. A run to the Wimbledon quarter-finals followed, and the Serb has now made up some lost ground in the season-long bid to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals, an event that he has already won on five occasions.
The stylish Spaniard Feliciano Lopez won at The Queen’s Club, claiming the important Aegon Championship and another over-30 player in Gilles Muller won the Ricoh Open at ’s-Hertogenbosch. At 34, Muller is enjoying a vintage season and the Ricoh Open win was his second career win on the ATP World Tour. He followed up by reaching the semi-final at Queen’s and then reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals by beating Nadal in a five-set thriller.
There were good wins on grass also for Japan’s Yuichi Sugita at the Antalya Open in Turkey and for Lucas Pouille at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart. One other note from Stuttgart was the standout win by 39-year-old Tommy Haas over Federer. Haas is playing his last season on the ATP World Tour, having started in 1996 and his vintage win showed some insight into why he reached a career-high ranking at No. 2 during a stellar career that saw him win 15 titles. Tommy won’t be lost to tennis once he hangs up his racquet though, because he is already serving as the Tournament Director at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.
As the ATP World Tour heads into the North American hard court swing, the race to the Nitto ATP Finals, to be played at The O2 in London from November 12-19, heats up. Nadal and Federer lead the charge into the elite eight-man field as the swing starts out, but there are many players well placed to consolidate positions including Djokovic, Andy Murray, Cilic, Alexander Zverev, and Dominic Thiem among them.
The swing is anchored by two ATP World Tour Masters 1000 events, the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati and the Coupe Rogers in Montreal, which lead into Flushing Meadows in New York with the US Open. For players who want to stay in Europe just a little longer before hitting the North American hard-courts there are prestigious events in Umag, Bastad, Hamburg, Gstaad and Kitzbuhel.
With so many points on offer leading into and at the US Open, the run to New York sees the elite field for the Nitto ATP Finals start to take a more definitive shape before the final swing through Asia and Europe with all roads leading to London.
This year the Race is also on for the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals, a season finale for the best 21-and-under players on the Tour. Zverev has already identified himself as the standout player from that age group, and he leads the standings leading into that event to be played in Milan from November 7-11. The tall, big serving German is also on track as a contender to qualify for the Nitto ATP Finals in London in what should be a thrilling culmination to the season.
-Chris Kermode is Executive Chairman and President of ATP