With Roger's withdrawal from Paris, Race to London takes center stage

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Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is one of six players vying for two spots in the Nitto ATP FInals. (AP)

Until Sunday afternoon, it looked as if there would be two races to follow this week at the year’s final ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Paris. But one of them, the battle for the No. 1 ranking between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, was abruptly short-circuited when Federer pulled out after winning the title in Basel. Now all Nadal needs to do is survive his opening-round match this week to clinch the top spot.

That leaves us with a second, lower-profile race to watch: Two places remain in the season-ending Nitto ATP Finals, and there are seven hard-charging—and not so hard-charging—contenders trying to grab them. Here’s a look at the road they’ll face in Paris, and who might have the inside track to London.

*****

First Quarter

What a difference a week can make. The last time we saw Nadal, in Shanghai, his knees were acting up, and when he pulled out of Basel, it looked as if his quest to finish No. 1 was going to be in jeopardy. Now, with Federer’s withdrawal, he’s one win away.

He’ll try to get it against either Mischa Zverev or Hyeon Chung. Rafa is 2-0 versus the German and 1-0 versus the Korean. After that, the first seed Nadal could face is fellow Spaniard Albert Ramos-Viñolas, and the highest seed in his quarter is another countryman, Pablo Carreño Busta, who is attempting to hang onto the final spot in London.

Also here: Sam Querrey. The American is on the London bubble, just behind Carreño Busta for the last spot. They could meet in the third round.

Semifinalist: Nadal

*****

Second Quarter

Twenty-year-old Alexander Zverev may have begun the season hoping to qualify for the Next Gen Finals in Milan. But he has left the young guns in the dust and secured a seat at the adult table in London. The only players to earn more ranking points in 2017 than the German are Nadal and Federer.

But Zverev has also played a lot—22 events—and he seemed to peak with back-to-back titles in D.C. and Montreal this summer. How much will he want to put into Bercy, with London around the corner? He’ll need all he can muster to go far; he’s slated to meet Juan Martin del Potro in his second match.

The Argentine does have something to play for here; he’s in the middle of an 11th-hour run to London. As of this weekend, after making the semis at the US Open and Shanghai, winning in Stockholm, and reaching the final in Basel, Delpo sat 190 points shy of the eighth spot. Can the big man find the energy, and the luck, to get across the finish line? He’ll start against either Joao Sousa or Paolo Lorenzi, and then could face Zverev.

Also here: Grigor Dimitrov, John Isner, Gael Monfils

Semifinalist: Del Potro

*****

Third Quarter

This section features two more players who are part of the end-of-year chase, David Goffin and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Goffin is currently in the lead, in seventh place, while Tsonga is 300 points out of the eighth spot. That’s a lot of ground to make up, but Jo, winner in Antwerp and runner-up in Vienna, is closing fast, and he could get a shot at Goffin in his second match. Tsonga will be working with a home crowd in Bercy—he won the first of his two Masters 1000s here back in 2008—and he leads Goffin 4-2 in their head to head.

Also here: Marin Cilic, Denis Shapovalov

Semifinalist: Tsonga

*****

Fourth Quarter

Another local favorite, 17th-seeded Lucas Pouille, will take Federer’s place at the bottom of the draw. Pouille won the title in Vienna this past weekend, which pulls him to within shouting distance of London (though it will have to be a loud shout). The first seed Pouille could face is Jack Sock.

Also here: Kevin Anderson. Since reaching the US Open final, the South African is just 3-3, and he has watched as Del Potro and Tsonga have caught up to him in the race. With one more chance to qualify, Anderson will start against either Andrey Rublev or Fernando Verdasco in Paris.

First-round match to watch: Rublev vs. Verdasco

Semifinalist: Pouille

*****

Semifinals: Nadal d. Del Potro; Pouille d. Tsonga

Final: Nadal d. Pouille


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