It seemed, for a short time at least, that the ATP had finally made the fall schedule work in 2012. The season was over at a reasonable point in mid-November. The top players were fresh enough to make the trip to the Masters in Shanghai. And complaints about over-work were few and far between. But there was still one catch: The three-week triple-header to close it out in Basel, Paris, and London, a daunting slog that had been created to get the season done and dusted as quickly as possible. How were the top guys going to survive it?
Now we know. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray skipped the first leg, in Basel, and Roger Federer has now announced, after losing a close final on Sunday, that he’s skipping the second leg, the usually-mandatory event in Paris. That’s not an ideal ending to the year, though even with the traditional week’s break between Paris and London—it was eliminated in 2012—it would have been a tough stretch for any of them.
For now, anyway, those of us on the East Coast of the United States don’t mind the quick transition from Basel to Paris. With Frankenstorm Sandy bearing down on us, we can’t do much besides watch the opening rounds from Bercy. That means a heavy dose of Anderson and Troicki and Granollers and Falla, but it has also yielded an interesting result: Jerzy Janowicz, a 21-year-old from Poland ranked No. 69—beat No. 19 Philipp Kohlschreiber on Monday. Janowicz is 6-foot-8, but you wouldn’t have known it from the way he was backpedaling and lasering his forehand today.
Bercy has begun. Reportedly, the court is a slow one, built to approximate what they’ll lay down in the O2 Arena next week—though I thought the court in London was more famous for being low, as in low-bouncing, than slow. We’ll see how Paris plays. This is also the last chance for players to qualify for the World Tour Finals. Six of the eight spots are locked up. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Janko Tipsarevic are in the lead for the last two, with Richard Gasquet and Nicolas Almagro next in line if they falter—Tsonga is defending finalist points from last year.
So, before the power goes out here in New York, here’s a look ahead at the draw
It’s isn’t often, or maybe ever, that the poker-faced Romanian Victor Hanescu finds himself on the top line of an ATP main draw. But that’s where this week’s Lucky Loser sits, thanks to Federer’s withdrawal. The biggest beneficiaries of that downgrade, aside from Hanescu, are Tomas Berdych, the second seed in this quarter, and Gasquet, who should feel a little more positive about his chances of sneaking into London today. Though neither player has the world’s easiest opener: Berdych starts with Andreas Seppi, Gasquet with Kevin Anderson.
First-round matches to watch: Simon vs. Baghdatis, a duel of the dads; Paire vs. Andujar, a duel of the well-coiffed.
With Federer’s withdrawal, the year-end No. 1 ranking officially goes to Novak Djokovic for a second straight season. But No. 3 Andy Murray, the top seed in this section, still has something to play for in 2012: specifically, the WTF in his adopted hometown. A win there would give him an impressive trio—a Slam, a gold medal, and a YEC title. Oddly, though, Murray has only one other title all season, in Brisbane, way back in January.
First things first. Murray, a solid indoor player who has never reached the final here, opens with the winner of the Hyphen Bowl between Paul-Henri Mathieu and Roberto Bautista-Agut. (Which is cooler, two first names, or two last names? We’ll find out.) Muzz could then get the winner of Cilic and Janowicz.
Tipsarevic and Monaco are the top seeds on the other side, though I’ll be just as interested in the fates of two other, younger names, Grigor Dimitrov and Alexandr Dolgopolov. After plenty of ups and downs, these two flaky talents have made some progress this fall. Dolgopolov should have beaten David Ferrer in the Valencia final; he ended up losing 6-4 in the third, still a respectable result.
Best names: Igor Sijsling; Jerzy Janowicz
Second-round match to watch: Cilic vs. Janowicz
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has plenty to play for this week: He’s trying to clinch his place in London, he’s defending final-round points, he’s playing in front of the home folks, and he's getting set to start a new coaching relationship with Roger Rasheed (formerly with Lleyton Hewitt and Gael Monfils). Jo will start off with fellow Frenchman Julien Benneteau.
David Ferrer is the top seed on the other side. He’s coming off an emotional title run at his home event in Valencia last week, but he’s never reached a final at Bercy. If he meets Tsonga in the quarters, Ferrer will bring a 2-1 head-to-head record.
Also here: Wawrinka, Almagro
How will Novak Djokovic, the tournament’s new top seed, react to clinching the No. 1 ranking for the year? He’s been methodically driving toward that goal for a while now; will he have a let down now that it’s his? Will he relax and play great tennis? Will he save himself for the big showdown at the WTF? Or will he treat it like any other tournament, the way a true pro and a true No. 1 should? I’m going to go with the latter. Any Masters event is still a big one, and there’s no reason for the champ in Beijing and Shanghai to slow down now. Plus, he almost never loses early these days. Djokovic, who won here in 2009, opens with the winner of Sam Querrey and Fernando Verdasco. More interesting would be his third-round match, which might be against Milos Raonic. They’ve never played.
John Isner and Juan Martin del Potro join Raonic here in this redwood forest of a quarter. It’s tough to say how del Potro will fare in his third straight week of tennis, but whatever his condition you would still expect him to win his opener against Alejandro Falla. Isner, who is defending semifinalist points from 2012, will get the winner of Llodra and Stepanek—Llodra reached the semis here in 2010, Stepanek made the final back in 2004.
First-round match to watch: Stepanek vs. Llodra
Third-round match to hopefully watch: Djokovic vs. Raonic
Semifinals: Tsonga d. Djokovic; Murray d. Gasquet. If Tsonga, Djokovic, and Murray happen to make the semis, I could see Jo being inspired by the crowd to knock off Nole, who may feel like he has bigger fish to fry in London but not being able to do it again the next day against Murray. Yes, Muzz has won just three titles this year, none of which were Masters events. This may lead you to think he's unlikely to suddenly win his first in November. Or it may lead you to believe he's due. After flipping a coin...I've decided to take the second option.
Final: Murray d. Tsonga