The end of season finale, the ATP World Tour Finals, got underway in London yesterday and defending champion, five time tournament winner (2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2008) and second seed Novak Djokovic got his Group A campaign off to a winning start, beating debutant Dominic Thiem (seeded eight) 6-7 6-0 6-2.
Djokovic (3/2) has benefited from landing the far easier group on paper and, considering his record at London and with the number one ranking spot still being up for grabs, he has to be respected. However, his form since the summer has been disappointing by his lofty standards and, with injury concerns and recent defeats against the likes of Bautista-Agut and Cilic at Masters Series events, I’d rather be a layer than a backer of Djokovic in the outright market.
Third seed and three time semi-finalist, Stan Wawrinka, and fifth seed and 2014 semi-finalist, Kei Nishikori, get the Group B action underway today at 2pm. Wawrinka leads-the head-to-head 4-2 and they’ve met twice this season. Nishikori won the first encounter 7-6 6-1 at the Canadian Masters and Wawrinka won the most recent encounter at the US Open 4-6 7-5 6-4 6-2. I expect both players to be close to their best for this match and it should be an enthralling, closely fought affair. I give the edge to Wawrinka given the head-to-head statistic and his record at this event and see him winning this in three sets (18/5).
Wawrinka (14/1) also appeals for the tournament outright as he has the best head-to-head record of all the other competitors against Murray and Djokovic. Furthermore, as mentioned above, he leads the head-to-head against Nishikori and has enjoyed much success against Cilic leading the head-to-head 10-2.
New world number one, tournament favourite and top-seed Andy Murray gets his campaign underway today at 8pm against seventh seed Marin Cilic. Murray leads the head-to-head 11-3 and they met twice this season with Murray winning the first encounter at the semi-final stage at Queens in three sets and Cilic winning the most recent encounter in the final of the Cincinnati Masters 6-4 7-5.
The playing conditions at London have reportedly been speeded up, which will suit both players but Cilic should benefit the most as his game is best suited to quick conditions. His overall record at London is disappointing and Murray has performed better than Cilic reaching the semi-finals three times (2008, 2010 and 2012). This looks set to be an enthralling encounter and highly entertaining, and, while I expect Murray to win, I don’t think it will all be plain sailing and my idea of the best match bet is Over 21.5 Games (13/15).
Murray has ended the season in impressive fashion and will be brimming with confidence having won his last four tournaments and, most importantly, becoming the World Number one for the first time in his career after winning the Paris Masters for the first time. If Djokovic fails to defend his title, Murray will definitely end the year as the World Number one and, with it, comes the huge benefit of number one ranking at all Grand Slams and Masters Series tournaments, as well as being the new ambassador of the ATP Tour, a responsibility Murray will surely excel at.
However, with Djokovic residing in the much easier group and with his path to the final potentially much easier, Murray is going to have to fight tooth and nail if he wants to protect his number one ranking as his group is so competitive. If Murray continues to play as well as he did at the Shanghai and Paris Masters, he has every chance of winning a first World Tour Finals title and ending the season as the world number one for the first time in his career.
However, given Djokovic’s record at the World Tour Finals and the motivation of regaining the World Number one ranking and ending the season as the world number one for the third straight year it’s hard to right such a warrior off even after such a poor end to the season. The ATP, tournament organisers and most importantly the fans will all be hoping that we witness an epic showdown for the number one ranking between Murray and Djokovic in Sunday’s final (11/4 Murray and Djokovic final) and I personally can’t think of a more fitting end to another epic season on the ATP Tour.