Surreal World Finals launch goes down tubes
Tennis stars get a taste of London rush-hour as Federer targets 100th tournament triumph
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