Britain's Andy Murray plays a return to Tomas Berdych of
Czech Republic during their singles tennis match at the ATP
World Tour Finals in the O2 Arena in London. REUTERS/Kieran
Billed as a showdown between the world's top-eight
players, the ATP World Tour Finals has got off to a spectacular
start with strobe lights, music and victory for home favourite
Andy Murray igniting the touchpaper for eight days of action.
However, the fourth staging of the season-finale besides the
River Thames at London's O2 Arena is missing one of its main
attractions: Rafa Nadal's injury-enforced absence is taking a
little gloss off the tournament.
The Mallorcan has appeared in London for the previous three
years, reaching the final in 2010 when he lost to old rival
Roger Federer, but his recurring knee problems have robbed
men's tennis of his ferocious talent for the past six months.
While all the talk might be of Murray's rapidly intensifying
rivalry with world number one Novak Djokovic, Nadal is being
missed, not least by 17-time grand slam champion Federer.
Some of the most memorable moments of the Swiss maestro's
remarkable career have been with Nadal across the net and he
was quick to jog people's memories as he prepared for his
opening match against Janko Tipsarevic on Tuesday.
"Once a tournament starts, you do unfortunately forget what's
happening around you," world No 2 Federer, bidding for a
record seventh end-of-year title and a hat-trick in London,
"You do forget those things a little bit. Knowing that maybe
the draw is potentially a little easier, there is no denying
that because Rafa is a great champion and I'm sure that he is
missed by a lot of the fans, which would have made this
tournament maybe even more exciting, but then it gives
opportunities to one or two more guys.
"It's obviously never the same when Rafa doesn't enter a
tournament, but from time to time injuries just do happen,
and we all wish him the best so he can return next year."
Federer, 31, is the elder statesman in the draw, but despite
the passing years, his game is still ideally suited to the
indoor surface at the 02 Arena and he will be hard to stop if
gets off to a flying start against Serb Tipsarevic.
Whether or not he retains the trophy, however, Federer
acknowledges that Djokovic deserves the end-of-year No 1
ranking having snatched it back from Federer last week.
"The real No 1, we know who that is going to be, it's going
to be Novak, so I think there should not be any debate around
that," said Federer, who this year moved past Pete Sampras's
record 286 weeks spent on top of the ATP rankings.
"Number one, you don't get there by chance. The rankings are
something that show you how you've played over a 365-day
"It might change all over again at the Australian Open,
there's no doubt about that, but right now, it's clear.
"This event is a bonus, obviously, for the top eight players
to face off against each other, and try their very best and
hopefully finish the season in good style."
Federer also agreed that the duels between Murray and
Djokovic this year, most memorably in the US Open final, have
become the must-see matches for fans after being deprived of
the Nadal-Federer blockbusters.
"I always knew Andy and Novak were going to stay around for a
long time at the very top, so this is just right now it seems
they are in their prime and this is when they are supposed to
play their best tennis in my opinion," Federer said.
"Obviously we miss Rafa because he belongs in there, he won a
grand slam this year. I would have loved to have seen him
again and played him because I don't think I've played him in
the last couple of years."