Favourites at odds over Lon­don venue

Fed­erer happy to stay as Djokovic urges change Zverev heck­les his ri­vals about overuse of tow­els

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Tennis - By Si­mon Briggs TEN­NIS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

There will be eight men con­test­ing the Nitto ATP Fi­nals, which start to­mor­row at Lon­don’s O2 Arena. But the book­mak­ers’ odds sug­gest that only the top two seeds – No­vak Djokovic and Roger Fed­erer – have a re­al­is­tic shot at lift­ing the ti­tle.

Th­ese are ar­guably the two best in­door play­ers in his­tory and they have an ex­tra­or­di­nary record at the sea­son fi­nale, win­ning 11 of the past 15 events be­tween them. No won­der Fed­erer stated yes­ter­day that he would like to see the tour­na­ment stay in Lon­don be­yond the end of its present deal, which stretches to 2020.

“If the O2’s happy and the crowd keep flock­ing and com­ing to this venue and the tour has a good deal, why not stay here?” said Fed­erer. “It’s been a win­ning for­mula. I’ve en­joyed play­ing in a city that knows ten­nis very well. It’s been a good place for us play­ers to show­case our tal­ents.”

We heard a dif­fer­ent ar­gu­ment, not for the first time, from Djokovic. Newly re­turned to the world No 1 spot, he re­peated his the­ory that the event – which has been held in 14 dif­fer­ent cities since the in­au­gu­ral edi­tion in 1970 – should not set­tle in one place for too long.

“I feel like maybe 10 years in one place is a bit too much,” said Djokovic. “Not be­cause of Lon­don, not be­cause of any­thing to do with this event. I per­son­ally have had phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess and I should be the last one talk­ing about mov­ing it any­where. But at the same time, I feel that the gen­eral idea of this event is that it trav­els more.”

While Rafael Nadal has been ruled out of this tour­na­ment for the sev­enth time, hav­ing un­der­gone mi­nor an­kle surgery last week, both his lead­ing ri­vals looked sur­pris­ingly fresh for this late stage of the sea­son. But then, nei­ther of them has played a full sched­ule. Fed­erer par­tic­i­pated in 12 events in 2018, Djokovic in 15, and they each came away with four ti­tles. In Fed­erer’s case, this car­ried him to the tan­ta­lis­ing to­tal of 99.

“The 100 hap­pens when it does,” said Fed­erer, with the be­atific air of a man who has al­ready ticked off his life goals. “I hope it hap­pens sooner rather than later, but I’m happy to wait. If I won here it would be more about win­ning the World Tour Fi­nals and not about my 100th.”

The bet­ting ex­perts have Djokovic as odds-on favourite at 4-6, with Fed­erer next at 11-4. Then there is a pre­cip­i­tous drop to Alexan­der Zverev – who is com­fort­ably the youngest man in the field at 21 – and Marin Cilic at 16-1 apiece.

The more charis­matic op­tion would be Zverev, who made the most of his ap­pear­ance in the in­ter­view room yes­ter­day as he heck­led his con­tem­po­raries, Ste­fanos Tsit­si­pas and Frances Ti­afoe, for their ex­ces­sive use of tow­els.

Zverev had been asked for his re-

sponse to the towel rail pro­vided at this week’s Next Gen ATP Fi­nals in Mi­lan – a di­rect con­se­quence, one sus­pects, of Fer­nando Ver­dasco’s ugly scold­ing of a ball boy who was slow to pass on his towel in Shang­hai at the end of Septem­ber.

Asked about the ex­per­i­men­tal re­form, Zverev replied: “I think it would prevent play­ers from tak­ing the towel af­ter ev­ery dou­ble fault, mis-hit re­turn, be­cause some­times it gets a lit­tle ridicu­lous in my eyes. I mean, Ti­afoe takes the towel af­ter ev­ery point and Tsit­si­pas takes the towel af­ter an ace or dou­ble fault.”

Nadal’s in­juries (which also in­clude an ab­dom­i­nal is­sue) have caused the can­cel­la­tion of the po­ten­tially em­bar­rass­ing ex­hi­bi­tion match that he was due to play against Djokovic in Jed­dah, Saudi Ara­bia, on Dec 22.

Tar­get: Roger Fed­erer will win his 100th ti­tle if suc­cess­ful at the ATP Fi­nals

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