Stars converge on London as tennis season draws to close

It started in Australia in the early months, moved through Europe during spring, England over summer and continued into North America and Asia during the autumn. But as the nights draw in, and the calendar year comes to a close, so too does this year’s ATP Tour.

But before it does, the top eight singles players and doubles teams in the world will once again descend on the O2 Arena in London to battle it out for the year-ending World Tour Finals. With only the very best even invited to participate, the players know how special an event it is, and its offers of prize money and ranking points reflect its status as just below the four Grand Slams.

Its distinguished qualifying requirements are not the only unique aspect to the event. Unlike most other tournaments, it features a round-robin group system which sees the two best players from each group progress to the semi-final stage. Not only does this help ensure that the best players are more likely to reach the latter stages, but it also means everyone will play a minimum of three matches – something which fans are only too happy to see.

Of course, Andy Murray will once again fly the flag for Britain, as he looks to end what has been a below-par season by his standards on a high. Having never progressed past the semi-final stages, it will be a tough ask for Murray, but his form towards the end of the season has been encouraging. After missing last season’s Tour Finals through injury, the Scot will be keen to make the most of his chances this year, and with the crowd behind him there’s no ruling him out.

Drawn in the same group as Murray is Swiss veteran Roger Federer, who is enjoying a renaissance season at the age of 33. Currently sitting at number two in the world rankings, Federer could close the gap on world number one Novak Djokovic with an impressive showing in London.

Usurping Djokovic will not be easy to roll over however. The Serb enters the tournament as the outright favourite, in lieu of his recent form, which has seen him capture titles in Beijing and Paris. Going in search of a third title in a row at the O2, Djokovic will undoubtedly be the man to beat.

Perhaps most exciting about this year’s event however is the emergence of the younger players in the draw. Although the familiar faces of the established tennis hierarchy remain in the form of Murray, Djokovic and Federer; the likes of U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic, Japanese star Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic from Canada are all making their first appearances at the season ending event.

While many of these players had shown promise over the last few seasons, 2014 was when they really broke out, and it gives the tennis world a much-needed glimpse of what the future holds. Both Nishikori and Raonic will face off against Murray and Federer in Group B, while Group A sees Djokovic and Cilic battle it out alongside Tomas Berdych and Stanislas Wawrinka for places in the semi-finals.

Significantly however, the Tour Finals will be without one of the sport’s biggest stars, as world number three Rafael Nadal has had to withdraw because of injury. It’s the second time in three years that the Spaniard has been forced to miss the season ending showpiece, and it remains one of the few major titles missing from his collection.

Although the focus in London will undoubtedly be on the action in the singles, the doubles half of the tournament is unfairly under-appreciated. The players may not be as recognisable, nor the cheques as sizeable, but the tennis is still of the highest quality. The Bryan Brothers are almost unquestionably the greatest doubles team in the history of the sport, and will be aiming for a fourth World Tour Finals crown. But such is the nature of doubles and its quick-fire rallies that nothing is certain and the tournament will see a mix of new and experienced partnerships, all capable of causing an upset.

While most players on the ATP Tour will be putting their feet up after a long, hard season, these elite competitors will have no difficulty in psyching themselves up for one last hurrah. In front of over 10,000 fans, they’re sure to serve up an absolute treat.

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