November 8, 2019 3:55:14 PM
The year’s eight best singles players have assembled at the O2 Arena ahead of the ATP Finals beginning on Sunday.
The tournament is being held in London for the 11th and penultimate time, with Alexander Zverev defending his title.
Here, the PA news agency picks out five things to look out for.
Despite winning yet another Masters title in Paris last week, Novak Djokovic was usurped at the top of the rankings on Monday for the first time in a year by Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard appears to be winning his battle against an abdominal problem but whether he will be able to hold off Djokovic for the year-end top spot will be a big story this week. Djokovic must reach the final to have a chance but his record at the O2 is superb, with four titles in a row from 2012-15, and he has made no secret of how much he wants to overtake Roger Federer as the man with most weeks at number one. The Serbian is currently 35 weeks short of Federer’s tally of 310.
The generational shift in men’s tennis has been akin to the changing of the guard outside Buckingham Palace being performed by snails. Atop the rankings still sit Nadal, Djokovic and Federer, with a combined age of 103. But the five players joining them in London are all aged 26 and under, with only Dominic Thiem older than 23. Zverev struck a blow for the young guns by winning at the O2 last year and this is a chance to shape the narrative heading into 2020.
For a long time it appeared Zverev would not even make it to the start line in defence of his title. Off-court issues and problems with his serve have contributed to a difficult season but the German has been much improved recently, including beating Federer in Shanghai. After his stellar start to the season, Tsitsipas hit the buffers over the summer but also found his form again to qualify for a debut appearance at the O2, where he is sure to be a big draw.
The Russian had been rather overshadowed by other rising stars like Zverev but he has come of age spectacularly over the second half of the season. From July to October he reached a remarkable six successive finals, including at the US Open where he made a dramatic transformation from pantomime villain to hero with a stirring comeback against Nadal. His mentality and skills both in defence and attack have led many pundits to label him the next new grand slam champion and he will have high hopes for his O2 debut.
The man to maintain Britain’s record of always having a home qualifier for the O2 is someone even tennis fans may struggle to recognise on the street. But that is certainly not to denigrate the achievements of 27-year-old Londoner Joe Salisbury, who will make his debut in the doubles alongside American Rajeev Ram. The pair have won two titles this season and and are in fine form. No British player has ever won the doubles title at the ATP Finals.