Friday, November 18, 2011

ATP WTF Group B Preview: Federer and Nadal to Finish Strong?

Just over 24 hours left to go until the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals kick off at the O2 Arena in London. Today we're going to take a look at the groups individually, starting with group B.

With Roger Federer's stellar play of late, the idea of renewing tennis's most storied rivalry seems a lot more exciting that it did earlier in the season. Federer, who is in search of a record-breaking 6th WTF title, might be the fittest player of the eight in the draw, and, he's also coming in red hot, with titles at Basel and Paris just recently claimed. But Nadal, who holds a career record of 17-8 against Federer (including 3-0 this season, with wins over Federer in Miami, Madrid and Roland Garros), will come in fresh after making the decision to skip Paris in order to get healthy for the final.

Little known fact: Rafa has never beaten Roger at this event. He's 0-3 vs. Federer in their three previous meetings (semis '06 and '07 in China, and finals last year). 2011 will also be the first time that the two legends have been paired in the same group.

The big question: How is Rafa's health? In other words, did he skip Paris because he's really dragging after a long, disconcerting season that featured 6 consecutive losses in finals to Djokovic, or did he skip Paris because he is fully committed to winning this prestigious even for the first time in his career? If it's the latter, watch out.

I think the extra rest bodes well for Nadal, and even if he loses to Federer in group play, his combined 13-3 record against Mardy Fish and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga mean that the odds of him not advancing to the semifinals next week are very slim indeed.

The other two members of group B, Fish and Tsonga, will have to hope for inspired performances and perhaps some good old fashioned luck. Fish is a combined 2-14 versus the members of group B, and he's coming in hobbled by a hamstring injury that forced him to retire from Paris. Tsonga, who scored wins over all three of the members of Group B during the season, has a decent shot to break through. By beating Nadal at Queens, Federer at Wimbledon and Montreal, and Fish at the US Open, Tsonga has proved that he might be better than his combined 6-12 career record against the members of Group B indicates.

Picks: Nadal, 1st place, Federer 2nd place

Head to Heads:

Federer: 5-time champion, making his 10th consecutive appearance.
(20-21 vs. Group B): 8-17 vs. Nadal, 6-1 vs. Fish, 6-3 vs. Tsonga
Nadal: Making his 5th appearance, finalist last year
(30-11 vs. Group B): 17-8 vs. Nadal, 7-1 vs. Fish, 6-2 vs. Tsonga
Tsonga: Making his second appearance
(6-12 vs. Group B): 3-6 vs. Federer, 2-6 vs. Nadal, 1-0 vs. Fish
Fish: Making his first appearance
(2-14 vs. Group B): 1-6 vs. Federer, 1-7 vs. Nadal, 0-1 vs. Tsonga

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