If we look back at the beginning of the year, neither Roger nor Rafa were pursuing a ranking. They were aiming to add to their collection of Grand Slams and they have both done that incredibly well. But as we move to the close of the year, we now have a question of rankings: who will finish No.1? It has become an issue of pride for the two of them, with both wanting to be able to say ‘I have had the better year’.
But what if we threw out the rankings and the points and said: let’s just take a look at how they played in 2017? Two Slams each, two Masters 1000 titles each. Admittedly, Roger gave up a bit of it by not playing on clay, but ultimately player of the year now comes down to who wins the ATP finals.
A lot also depends on these next couple of weeks for Roger, and whether the momentum really is going in Rafa’s direction. We’ve got Shanghai this week, and if Roger wins that event he will get some of that momentum back. But if Rafa continues his run – which started with victory at the US Open and went on to Beijing – and wins Shanghai? Well, Roger may start to think about taking the rest of the year off.
After all, he hasn’t been physically as good in the second half of the year as he was in the first. During the US hard court season he wasn’t moving as well as he had been in Australia or the Sunshine Swing. Rafa, however, is looking as fit as he has ever been.
Surprisingly, Rafa has never won an ATP Finals, and for any player at that level it is important to win all of those titles at least once – it is like a Major for them. One possible reason why Rafa hasn’t won one is that he’s not as good an indoor player as Roger is. On an indoor court a player like a John Isner can stand in, get some confidence, and not have to worry about dealing with the elements. All of that puts pressure on Rafa – as we saw at Laver Cup.
Bear in mind, though, that this is the year for Rafa to win it. The field is weaker with the absence of Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka. Looking at the likely eight who will qualify, there is nobody who can blast Rafa off the court with their gamestyle and that plays into his hands. That means, ultimately, we could be looking at Roger v Rafa in London to decide who the best player of the year is.
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