The ATP Finals is my least favourite ‘big’ event of the year. I almost feel like the effort to get there is the more interesting part of the story, following the guys jostling to get that last spot. I would be happy for the season to end there, meaning that when the Paris Masters finishes you have your top eight.
In my view, the quality of the matches tends to fall apart at this event because a lot of the guys are spent, and their year is effectively over. It’s almost like they’re saying ‘let me go on holiday and let me recharge my batteries’.
It’s hard to maintain a high level throughout the year – if you could maintain yourself at 80% of your best throughout the season you’re going to have a phenomenal year. But often, when they hit their goal and qualify for the Finals, their form and focus starts to drop away. I think you see – even at this highest level – there’s an element of not dotting every ‘i’ or crossing every ’t’. They just can’t summon all of the energy that’s required to play brilliant tennis.
I played in multiple end of year championships including the World Doubles Final, the first International sporting event put back in South Africa in 1992. I also played singles in the Grand Slam cup, a pre-cursor to the ATP World Tour Finals.
In doubles it was always important for Mark Woodforde and I to qualify, but we never played our best tennis there. Maybe it was because of what I said: at the end of the year we wanted to do well but couldn’t summon up the energy. It wasn’t the most important part of the year to us, that was the Majors and Masters Series. And you know, I don’t talk about having won the end of year championships – it’s not a selling point to anyone in the speeches that I do now.
This week, I think Djokovic and Murray are the only players with something tangible to aim for. But there are other tangibles that are not talked about, in particular the financial aspect.
The prize money bonus system is one of the principal lures of making the finals. You’re guaranteed that prize pool, and that is why finishing number eight is so much more important than nine. That’s the critical number. That’s what I enjoy about the race – watching those guys jostle for those last positions.
It seems that too many of these matches have little or no consequence at the end of the season. The question for me here is: is it time for a revamp of the format?
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