Race to London Heats Up

It’s the business end of the tennis season with the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals right around the corner. With four remaining slots left to be filled and plenty of points up for grabs in the coming weeks, the big question on every tennis fan’s mind is: who will qualify for the year-end championships?

World number one Rafael Nadal and defending champion Novak Djokovic comfortably booked their place in the ultimate event in London. They were followed very closely by number four David Ferrer and Argentine Juan Martin del Potro. Home fans received a major blow when their favorite son Andy Murray pulled out of the tournament due to a back injury. This however is good news for those still fighting for a place in the top eight.

Next in line to qualify is Czech Republic’s Tomas Berdych. Currently sixth in the race, Berdych has had consistent performances throughout the year. He was a quarterfinalist at the Australian Open and Wimbledon and a runner-up at Marseille, Dubai and Bangkok. The Czech has made a habit of going deep into the draws, his run mostly halted by the likes of Nadal and Djokovic. Berdych suffered a back injury during his semifinal match with Nadal at Beijing a couple of weeks ago. But, provided it wasn’t anything serious, he looks in good position to qualify for London for the fourth straight year.

Six time former champion Roger Federer has had a dismal year by his lofty standards. Unable to capture a single Grand Slam title this year, the Fed-Express dropped out of the top five for the first time in 10 years. His shocking second round loss to 116 ranked Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon marked his earliest exit at a Grand Slam in a decade. Such lackluster performances give impetus to the question whether the Swiss maestro has another Slam left in him? For the time being though, Federer will be counting on all the inspiration he can get when he plays his hometown tournament in Basel next week. He needs a successful run there and another decent week in Paris to stand a chance of featuring in the year-end event.

Federer’s compatriot Stanislas Wawrinka overtook him in the rankings for the first time this year. With a title and three finals to his name this season, Wawrinka pushed Djokovic to the limit in the U.S Open semifinal in September. Currently seventh in the race, the 28 year old is finally beginning to realize his potential. Wawrinka, like Federer, is playing in Basel next week followed by the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris. The Swiss does not have a whole lot of points to defend in these tournaments. However, he’ll still need to at least match his third round performance in Paris from last year, to remain in the safety zone. With the way he’s played all season long, look for Wawrinka to make his first appearance in London.

France’s Jo Wilfried Tsonga is another London prospect. The 2011 runner-up had some good showings at the Grand Slams this year. A semifinalist at Roland Garros and a quarterfinalist in Australia, Tsonga had to miss the U.S Open due to a left knee problem. But he seems to have recovered well and is in good nick of late with a final in Metz and a semifinal in Shanghai. The Frenchman is the top seed in Vienna this week and will be looking to accumulate some valuable points ahead of Paris.

Richard Gasquet last appeared at the year-end championships in 2007. Never having quite lived up to his true potential, this Frenchman has had an up and down career. However, he’s enjoyed considerable success on the tour this year with two titles and a semifinal at the U.S Open. He follows Tsonga very closely in the points race. It will come down to which man fares better in front of their home crowd in Paris in a couple of week’s time.

Canada might see some singles representation for the first time ever at the year-end championships come November. Milos Raonic created history when he broke into the top 10 in August. The fast rising Canadian recently won in Bangkok and backed it up with another final in Tokyo. His big serve and forehand are a lethal combination indoors and could prove to be the deciding factor in his London bid.

Veteran Tommy Haas has an outside chance of qualifying. At 35, the rejuvenated German has come back strong from a shoulder injury to present a serious challenge for the top eight.

Points-wise, there’s not a whole lot to separate the guys outside the top five. So, the coming weeks will be crucial for those still in contention. And as the players make that final push towards London, expect plenty of excitement and drama on the court.

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