Sur­real World Fi­nals launch goes down tubes

Ten­nis stars get a taste of Lon­don rush-hour as Fed­erer tar­gets 100th tour­na­ment tri­umph

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RUGBY / TENNIS - KEVIN MITCHELL

IT is dif­fi­cult to judge which was the most sur­real im­age on the eve of the ATP World Tour fi­nals in Lon­don: No­vak Djokovic scrolling through his mo­bile phone mes­sages on the Ju­bilee line or the speaker of the House of Com­mons, John Ber­cow, declar­ing his undying love for Roger Fed­erer in the oil-painted shadow of Betty Boothroyd.

The lat­ter event oc­curred at the official re­cep­tion in the speaker’s room at West­min­ster, which the eight sin­gles fi­nal­ists and 16 dou­bles con­tenders reached on the un­der­ground from North Green­wich, an ex­pe­ri­ence new to most of them and un­likely to be re­peated.

Smil­ing most broadly was the 33-year-old Amer­i­can John Is­ner, who squeaked into the fi­nal eight on the back of in­juries to oth­ers and he looked suit­ably thrilled.

If th­ese gifted mil­lion­aires needed re­mind­ing of the world that ex­ists out­side their bub­ble, shar­ing the Fri­day night rush hour with Lon­don­ers — al­beit in a re­served car­riage, sur­rounded by a pha­lanx of aides de camp — prob­a­bly is as straight­for­ward as it gets.

Af­ter then en­joy­ing the hospi­tal­ity of Her Majesty’s govern­ment in a set­ting as far re­moved from or­di­nar­i­ness as it is pos­si­ble to get, they re­turn to their day jobs to­day, Fed­erer light­ing up the evening pro­gramme against Kei Nishikori.

Con­trary to pop­u­lar per­cep­tion, the Swiss is not the king of Lon­don, but he has won two of his four World Tour Fi­nals tro­phies here, most re­cently in 2011, and needs one more tri­umph to reach a con­sid­er­able land­mark: a cen­tury of tour­na­ment wins. Ber­cow (who took up of­fice when the Fi­nals first came to the O2 in 2009) might well faint from joy if that hap­pens next Sun­day.

Djokovic — who has stopped Fed­erer in three Lon­don fi­nals — re­mains favourite, de­spite look­ing phys­i­cally shred­ded when los­ing to the ris­ing Rus­sian Karen Khachanov in the Paris Masters fi­nal last Sun­day. He ap­pears to have a good week left in him — freed of the obli­ga­tion to play in the December ex­hi­bi­tion in Saudi Ara­bia against Rafael Nadal — and be­gins his cam­paign for a sixth ti­tle on Mon­day evening against Is­ner.

On the face of it, the field has been weak­ened by Nadal’s with­drawal through in­jury, but this is the sev­enth time in 14 vis­its he has ei­ther pulled out be­fore the start or re­tired dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion. He has rarely been com­fort­able on the sur­face or at the venue.

“I’m pretty for­tu­nate to be here,” Is­ner said, “but I’ve had a good year. To do this at 33, my first ATP World Tour Fi­nals, is very sat­is­fy­ing. Over the past nine, 10 years I’ve al­ways been be­tween 10 and 19 in the world. This year it’s more that I’ve had three or four big results. That’s some­times what it takes. For me it all started in Mi­ami, I was 0-6 be­fore that, and turned it around in one event.”

One event can de­fine a ca­reer. A year ago, it seemed this tour­na­ment would do that for Is­ner’s com­pa­triot, Jack Sock, who made an im­pres­sive run to the semi-fi­nals on his de­but — and then lost 21 of his next 30 matches. His spec­tac­u­lar 2018 melt­down re­flects the gru­elling de­mands of the Tour, but per­haps he ran out of mo­ti­va­tion too. If he knew he was in for a ride on the tube, maybe he would have tried a lit­tle harder.

Af­ter­noon ses­sion — 12.30pm Dou­bles: J Murray/B Soares v R Klassen/M Venus; 2pm Sin­gles: Kevin An­der­son v Do­minic Thiem

Evening ses­sion — 6pm Dou­bles: J Ca­bal/R Farah v N Mek­tic/A Peya, 8pm Sin­gles: Roger Fed­erer v Kei Nishikori

Roger Fed­erer has won two of his four World Tour Fi­nals tro­phies in Lon­don, most re­cently in 2011, and needs one more tri­umph to reach a con­sid­er­able land­mark: a cen­tury of tour­na­ment wins

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