With the 2014 campaign approaching rapidly, it’s time to get predictions in for the eight World Tour Finals participants—in order. Can Rafael Nadal hold off his challengers for the top spot, or will there be a change at No. 1? Will any newcomers break through and crash the London party?
1. Novak Djokovic – If Djokovic regains the No. 1 crown, it won’t be because of Boris Becker. That’s not to say Becker will be a complete disaster of a head coach, although that is a very real possibility. Frankly, it probably doesn’t matter who coaches Djokovic; that’s just how good the Serb is. He also has extra motivation after watching Rafael Nadal storm past him, like one of the mozos at Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls. Djokovic is 26 years old, health concerns are things of the distant past, and he ended 2013 on a 24-match winning streak. What’s not to like?
2. Rafael Nadal – If Nadal gets bumped out of the top spot, it won’t be because of his own dip in form. The Spaniard cooled off (how couldn’t he?) after his remarkable summer hard-court run, but his fall swing was still better than usual by his standards. Nadal reached finals in Beijing and at the World Tour Finals, and now he has enjoyed a month off following his heroic 2013 efforts. His knees are always an issue, but they held up better than anyone could have expected last season and they should do the same if Nadal continues to smartly manage his schedule.
3. Juan Martin Del Potro – It’s time for Del Potro to assume his rightful place near the top of the men’s game. In fact, it’s past time. The Argentine has had three full years to get back in peak form after missing virtually all of 2010 with a wrist injury. He has not quite made it, with no Grand Slam final appearances to his credit since winning the 2009 U.S. Open. That being said, Del Potro was one set away from advancing to a slam final on arguably his worst surface (on grass at Wimbledon). Eliminate early-round upset losses at majors and Del Potro’s slow but steady rise through the Top 10 should continue.
4. Andy Murray – Roger Federer may be the biggest question mark heading into 2014…because he’s Roger Federer. Murray, though, is a close second. The Scot has not played a match since a mid-September Davis Cup playoff tie and he has not competed in a tournament since the U.S. Open. Could back surgery end up being a blessing in disguise? Murray has had more than three months off to recover and really recharge his batteries after the emotionally-draining summer run to a long-awaited Wimbledon title. He may get passed by Del Potro as he gets back into the swing of things, but not by anyone else.
5. Roger Federer – How will the 32-year-old’s back hold up in 2014? Will his playing style change with former coach Paul Annacone no longer in the picture? Will Federer hire Stefan Edberg as a new coach? Will he go with a larger racket frame? Outside the top 4 and vulnerable to difficult draws, can the Swiss consistently avoid Nadal in the quarterfinals of tournaments? These are just some of the questions surrounding Federer as the calendar turns; too many, too be sure, for him to get back—dare it even be said—to No. 1. However, Federer’s relatively successful fall swing was encouraging. Other than against Nadal on clay or a slow hard court, Federer remains a threat to win anytime and anywhere.
6. Tomas Berdych – The good news: Berdych has become extremely consistent after serious combustibility in his younger, carefree days. He has finished in the Top 10 four straight seasons and at no point since early July of 2010 has he been outside said group. The bad news: Berdych is showing no signs of taking the next step from really good to elite. He went 0-5 against Nadal in 2013 and has now lost 16 matches in a row to the world No. 1. He was 1-4 against Djokovic last year (3-12 in total sets), dropping to 2-15 in his career against the world No. 2. More of the same can be expected from Berdych in 2014, both on the court and in the realm of social media; all in all, not a bad thing.
7. David Ferrer – Ferrer fans have been fearful of impending doom for at least a year now. When will the little beast finally run out of gas? Yes, there was an inkling of it in 2013—at times during the hard-court summer and when he failed to win a single match at the World Tour Finals. Of course, his London performance can easily explained by the fact that Ferrer played a ridiculous seven weeks in a row. Additionally, his poor play in Montreal and Cincinnati was sandwiched in between quarterfinal showings at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Slippage may begin with coach Javier Piles no longer in Ferrer’s corner, but he has at least one more World Tour Finals season in his almost-ageless arsenal.
8. Milos Raonic – Stanislas Wawrinka? Maybe. Richard Gasquet? Nah, not again. Tommy Haas? Too old. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga? Too hurt. Jerzy Janowicz? See Tsonga. John Isner? Too small…in Grand Slams and all events outside the United States. Raonic could be the relative surprise in the London field. The Canadian’s partnership with coach Ivan Ljubicic got off to a rocky start, but Raonic picked up steam during the second half of 2013. He played one of the best matches of the year against Gasquet in round four of the U.S. Open and he followed that up with a title in Bangkok and a runner-up finish in Tokyo. Raonic is has youth (22 years old), size (6’5’’), and a mammoth serve going for him. Don’t be surprised if that carries him to London.
Comments and your own predictions are encouraged!