Race to London hots up

As many of the world’s top players converge on Paris for the final tennis tournament before the ATP World Tour Finals, there is still much to be decided this season. Following Rafael Nadal’s withdrawal from the season-ending tournament, it means that four of the eight spaces are yet to be filled. Andy Murray has put himself in prime contention to qualify after wrapping up the title in Valencia last week, and established clear water between him and rivals David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych in the process.

Nadal has been dogged by multiple injuries in recent years Image: tennisworldusa.org

After the Czech’s surprising defeat to Pablo Andujar in the first round, the door was left wide open for Murray. He faced a particularly tough test against the giant South African, before coming three in three sets. He then faced his nemesis Ferrer, but played the pressure points better than his Spanish counterpart. Tommy Robredo was the next obstacle, and lost out to Murray a month earlier in the final in Shenzhen. Once again it went the distance, and once again Murray came out on top. However, it was a titanic battle and the longest ATP final of 2014. The Scot lost the first set before facing two match points in the second-set tiebreak, fending both of them off. It was a similar story in the third set, as the contest stretched beyond the three-hour mark. Robredo looked to have the title in the bag, but each time Murray foiled him. After facing a further three match points, the 27 year-old eventually prevailed after another attritional rally, which Murray finished with a backhand down the line.

Federer has enjoyed a great year following back surgery Image: tenisweb.com

In Basel, Roger Federer won his hometown tournament with consummate ease as he defeated Belgian David Goffin 6-2, 6-2 in the final. He avoided facing his long-time rival Nadal, who was beaten unexpectedly by teenage prodigy Borna Coric, with the multiple Major winner then announcing that his season was over. Elsewhere, Stan Wawrinka, who has already made it through to London, also slipped up as he lost in three sets to the Kazakh player Mikhail Kukushkin. Grigor Dimitrov is another player who could make it to the O2 Arena, but he was taught a lesson by Swiss maestro Federer, who had to overcome tough three-set battles against Dennis Istomin and Ivo Karlovic en route to the final. Raonic, another hotshot who has come on leaps and bounds this year, went out at the quarter-final stage to Goffin. Despite his best season yet on the men’s tour, he has suffered a number of damaging defeats in recent weeks which have hampered his challenge.

Ferrer’s chances of qualification have been boosted by Nadal’s enforced lay-off Image: livetennisguide.com

So, as the scramble for qualification moves on to the French capital, it is Murray who is in the driving seat, with a quarter-final berth guaranteed to see him take part in the season-ending showpiece for the sixth time. Both Berdych and Kei Nishikori will both make sure of their participation with a semi-final finish. Following Nadal’s withdrawal, it means that Ferrer, Raonic and Dimitrov are still very much in the picture. Ferrer will guarantee qualification if he reaches the final, while Raonic has to win the title make sure of progression, which is also Dimitrov’s predicament. So, there are many scores to be settled, and the next few days will be as pivotal and competitive as any this season.

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: London Evening Standard

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