By Jane Voigt
With all grand slams in the read view mirror, what sparks players’ engines this time of the year?
Answer: the year-ending championships. Oddly enough, the person who holds the record of six titles has yet to qualify for the event — Roger Federer.
The WTA and ATP focus keenly on these two events, which parade their best in front of tennis enthusiasts in London, for the men, and Istanbul, for the women, laying millions of dollars at their feet plus gifts galore from eager vendors wanting in on la creme of the game.
However, both events fall short of their promise — being a year-ending championship. Davis Cup finals are scheduled for November 15-17, which means the yet-chosen men from the Czech Republic (Tomas Berdych) and Serbia (Novak Djokovic) will play past the Barclays ATP World Tour Championships that run November 4 through 11.
The WTA’s Championships are scheduled for October 22 – 27, which is earlier than the men’s, yet a few will vie for Fed Cup honors, as its final is November 2-3 between Italy and Russia.
Four men, of eight, have qualified for the men’s event at the London O2 Arena. They are Rafael Nadal, the new No. 1 player in the world as of this week, Djokovic, Andy Murray (who officially pulled out of the competition today), and David Ferrer. The Race to London ranking, which has nothing to do with the every-week, computer rankings, tracks players’ results beginning on January 1. No points are carried from year to year. It’s a clean slate for all.
The same system applies to the WTA. However, it brings 10 women to Istanbul.
Yesterday at the Shanghai Rolex Masters, Roger Federer, who holds a record 6 year-ending titles said he has focused his fall campaign on making the final eight, according to the ATP. That he is in that situation is odd, but not unexpected after his year. He said his game is improving, too. But those words, coming from the man who has walked on hard, red clay, and grass courts as if they were miraculous water makes fans flinch. What do you mean your game is improving?
Federer is a savvy public relations man, though. For him to diminish his obvious faulty performances in 2012 could seem cavalier. Or, and this probably was Federer’s intention, it puts him in a favorable spotlight once again. He is trying, which is all anyone can expect. And, if he tries he will win – that’s the default thought from desperate fans that freaked out when they heard, ‘my game is improving.’
Federer has spent 15 years in front of the press, honing his publicity manners. His answers are fine tuned to fit the ears of listeners worldwide. He is generous with the press, too, spending upwards to six hours with the them if necessary. For the most part, Federer does not find the mandatory press conferences a chore or the requests that land at his doorsteps daily. At least he can say no to the latter.
Federer also told the ATP yesterday that the year-ending championship is the most important event outside Grand Slams. He has won a record six titles, meaning he has navigated successfully through matches that are at the level of a slam quarterfinal, or better, day after day. So, Federer’s comment was another way of highlighting his supremacy amongst event contenders and past champions.
And make no mistake, Federer’s PR ray guns are pointed directly at Rafael Nadal.
Nadal has never won this annual contest, a fact Federer would like to see publicized rather than their head-to-head record where Nadal firmly holds a hammer over Roger’s head at 21-10.
Federer’s record at Tour Championships may never be broken, too. Another good reason for him to draw attention to it. Okay, it is possible some one could get to seven. The men’s tour is full of promising players that squeak off wins by one or two points. All they need, like plants need sun and water, is buckets of commitment 24/7 for about six years.
They also need motivation and consistency at a high level, which diminishes the likelihood of a 7-time champion. The field is too strong, too.
Federer’s campaign of improvement hits the court tomorrow in Shanghai. He will play Andreas Seppi of Italy. Federer leads in their head-to-head 9-0. However, before the third round in New York Federer lead Tommy Robredo 10-0, and we all know what happened that day. Federer fell flat on his face in straight sets.
Federer, seeded No. 5 in Shanghai, landed in Djokovic’s quarter of the draw. If they make their seeds, Federer will have his hands full in the quarterfinal. Djokovic’s performance was flawless in the China Open final last weekend where he handed Nadal his first hard-court loss of the year. The Serbian’s smoothly intense demeanor and execution stood at attention. He was on a mission. He seems to be on the same trajectory in Shanghai.
But … Djokovic has only won the year-ending championship twice, 2012 and 2008. Will the press please pay attention?