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Monday, October 25, 2021

ATP Finals Preview: Rafael Nadal fitness concern opens door for ‘newbies’

With Rafael Nadal still doubtful to play at the ATP Finals, it has opened the door for Roger Federer to bag his seventh year-ending championship.

Written by Tanuj Lakhina |
Updated: November 11, 2017 11:44:13 pm
rafael nadal, atp finals, nadal knee injury Rafael Nadal has been fighting knee injury issue ever since pulling out early in Paris. (Source: Reuters)

The organisers of the ATP Finals at the O2 Arena would be spending some sleepless nights as Rafael Nadal’s fitness continues to be a reason for concern. While the Spaniard has been penciled in for the round-robin tournament and is in London doing all the media duties while working towards facing David Goffin on Monday night, it remains a fact that he is not 100 per cent fit. The pesky knee injury continues to trouble him in what has been a busy year which has also seen plenty of rewards – French Open and US Open Grand Slam titles and foray into the Australian Open final. Elsewhere, he won titles in Monte Carlo, Barcelona, Madrid, Beijing.

Now considering his fitness issues, it appears that Nadal’s winless record in ATP Finals will continue despite reaching the year-ending championships 13 times. “I’m doing my best. I hope… (but) if I am not ready by Monday I won’t be here. If something negative happens, that’s it and you go home. (But) my plan is to play here and be competing well.

The tournament is already bereft of multiple stars. Home favourite and defending champion Andy Murray is out of action since Wimbledon. Other notable absentees are three-time champion Novak Djokovic, Swiss Stan Wawrinka, Japan’s Kei Nishikori and even a late push by crowd-favourite Juan Martin Del Potro was not enough as he fell in the semifinals of Paris Masters to John Isner.

But it is his American compatriot Jack Sock who sealed the deal in the end by winning the title and qualifying for his maiden ATP Finals. It is also a first time entry for Germany’s Alexander Zverev, Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov and Goffin. But none of them are pushovers or likely to go down without a fight. Pablo Carreno Busta will come in as a substitute should Nadal pull out and he, too, will be a debutant.

Even the opportunity of the battle for World No 1 has been stolen from the tennis lovers. Rafael Nadal clinched the World No 1 spot for the year after Roger Federer – who won the ATP Comeback of the Year Award this past week – pulled out of Paris Masters. The six-time ATP Finals champion thus becomes a firm favourite to extend that tally while leading Group Boris Becker alongside Zverev, Sock and Dimitrov.

Zverev ,20, will be a strong challenger for the trophy in what has been a spectacular season for the youngster. He’s bagged five titles this season and moved up to third in the rankings. It has given him the opportunity to forego the maiden ATP Next Gen Finals – featuring players under 21 – and focus on the ‘big league’. And O2 is a perfect stage for him to show that he is ready to step up and challenge for Grand Slam titles next year.

Dimitrov, nicknamed ‘Baby Fed’ and long been on the sidelines while promising plenty, has finally lived up to the potential. Elsewhere, Goffin, effortless and silky in his strokes, is a purists dream. The Belgian had long been out of action during the year and his presence is a sign of his ability to work hard and turn things around.

American Sock is the only outrider in the eight man lineup. He is the first American to qualify for the ATP Finals since Mardy Fish did in 2011. His surprise Paris Masters title quest means he will continue to wield a tennis racket the next week rather than golf clubs considering he had a trip booked for Augusta National Park.

Besides Nadal and Federer, Marin Cilic is another returnee to the tournament. He is back in London following an emotional Wimbledon defeat – losing to Federer at SW19. Another member in the cast is Dominic Thiem but it is no doubting that the focus continues to remain on Nadal (and his fitness) and Federer even as they push themselves, and their bodies, into the twilight of their respective careers.

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