Friday, November 18, 2011

ATP WTF Group A Preview: What Can Nole Do For An Encore?

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2011 has been the year of Novak Djokovic, but strangely, as we head into the final event of the year, talk has centered around Roger Federer's rejuvenation and quest for a 6th World Tour Finals title. In addition to Federer, a lot has been made of Andy Murray, who reeled off 17 consecutive wins this fall, and jumped into the No. 3 spot in the rankings.

Well then, who's year is it anyway? When you are blessed like the ATP is, with a star-studded cast of elite players who have all made significant statements throughout the year, a bit of confusion and competition at the end of the year is not such a bad problem to have. And if Djokovic wants to win this prestigious title for a second time, he will have to compete just as hard as he did over the course of the year, when he compiled a 43-match win streak, took over the No. 1 ranking and won three Grand Slams.

The big question: Does Djokovic have the energy to do it? We know he has the game, but he's been ailing since he dropped to the court in agony in Davis Cup play on September 18th with a back injury. After a 41-day layoff, Djokovic returned, but he hasn't been the same. He's been plagued by a shoulder injury in recent weeks, and he's looking mentally fatigued as well. But let's remember, this has been a season marked by Djokovic's ability to turn doubters into believers. Wouldn't we be foolish not to expect one more breathtaking burst of brilliant tennis from him? Marat Safin thinks so, for what it's worth.

The little question: Is it Murray's time to shine? Murray has seemed to gain a lot of confidence from witnessing Djokovic's remarkable transformation this season. Murray's never been one to shy away from a challenge, and now that he's seen first hand how a player can go from a perennial underachiever to having one of the greatest seasons in tennis history, many think that he's next in line for a similar transformation. That said, there are just as many that don't believe that Murray has enough of the intangibles to become a truly elite player. One things for sure: snaring this title would give him a lot of momentum going into 2012.

What about the other guys? I've failed to mention one of the bright spots of the ATP season, David Ferrer. He's the consummate grinder, he's in ridiculously good shape, and he never takes a point -- let alone a match -- off. Ferrer, a former finalist at the ATP World Tour Finals, has a respectable 12-13 combined record against the group, and he is no doubt anxious to prove that he's better than he showed in losing all six sets that he contested at last year's World Tour Finals.

Meanwhile, Tomas Berdych is the wildcard in the bunch, but the hard-serving Czech figures to be a tough out for anybody in the group, especially Andy Murray (he's 3-1 vs. Murray lifetime).

Picks: Murray, 1st, Djokovic 2nd

Head to Heads:

Djokovic: Making 5th appearance, former champion ('08)
19-9 vs. Group A, 6-4 vs. Murray, 6-4 vs. Ferrer, 7-1 vs. Berdych
Murray: Making 4th appearance, reached semis twice
10-12 vs. Group A, 4-6 vs. Djokovic, 1-3 vs. Berdych, 5-3 vs. Ferrer
Ferrer: Making 3rd appearance, former finalist ('07)
12-13 vs. Group A, 4-6 vs. Djokovic, 3-5 vs. Murray, 5-2 vs. Berdych
Berdych: Making 2nd appearance
6-13 vs. Group A, 1-7 vs. Djokovic, 3-1 vs. Murray, 2-5 vs. Ferrer

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