The Masters series rolls in Paris and the indoor stadium, AccorHotels Arena, once again hosts the best players from around the world. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have wound back the clock this year, and their dominance was on display again a few weeks ago in Shanghai. It will take something special to knock them over in the final ATP World Tour Masters 1000 event for the year. Interestingly, word is that Andy Murray might make a surprise return, but nothing has been confirmed yet..
Federer defeated Nadal in straight sets at the Shanghai Masters. It was a powerful performance that typified his approach of aggressive stroke-play from the baseline and his ability to finish points at the net. It also took Federer’s record to 4-0 over his closest rival this year. While Nadal is the obvious danger to the Swiss master, Juan Martin del Potro has caused Federer some troubles. He knocked him over at the US Open in September and was the only player to take a set off him in Shanghai.
Nadal is on the other side of the draw to Federer and is his greatest challenger. Even at the age of 31, Nadal’s game is still based around court coverage, tenacity and a devastating forehand. His performances have not been as complete as Federer, but his winning rate of over 85% in 2017 is outstanding. He overcame a tough semi-final and quarter-final, against Marin Cilic and Grigor Dimitrov, in Shanghai, before succumbing in the final. Nadal is a warrior and skipped Basel to rest his knee and concentrate on Paris.
In the past two months del Potro has defeated Federer, Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev. All those matches were played on del Potro’s preferred hardcourt surface. While del Potro can challenge and defeat the best in the world, his big-hitting game can come undone against lesser opponents. The 29-year-old’s body is constantly managed, but his power is undeniable. He could worry both Federer and Nadal.
In August, Alexander Zverev won the Citi Open and the Coupe Rogers in the space of a week. He defeated Federer in straight sets and looked primed for the US Open. Since then his form has been patchy and other than a semi-final appearance in Beijing, he has not featured late in tournaments. His Shanghai Masters saw a walkover first-up and then an enthralling loss to del Potro. It will take a turn around in form for him to win in Paris.
Dimitrov is back to his career high ranking of eight, which he achieved in 2014. The 26-year-old is starting to live up to the lofty expectations that were bestowed upon him at an early age. He recently lost to Nadal in the quarters in Shanghai and the semis in Beijing, however, he took a set off Nadal on each occasion, and is a chance if they square-off again. Like del Potro, Dimitrov prefers the hardcourt surface and won indoors in Bulgaria earlier this year.
Cilic has had a stellar season. The 29-year-old’s world ranking of four is the highest in his career and he reached the Wimbledon final in July. More recently, he was strong at the Shanghai Masters. He accounted for Steve Johnson and Albert Ramos-Vinolas, before losing to Nadal in the semis in two tight sets. His best performances for the year have not come on hardcourt and his only title in 2017 was on clay. In saying that, his power and reach still makes him a dangerous opponent on any surface.
Selecting an outsider who can topple Federer and Nadal, outside of ‘The Contenders’, is realistically a longshot at the moment. The gap between the best and the rest is stark. However, if you are looking for someone to keep an eye on, Lucas Pouille is in front of his home crowd. He might have recently drifted outside the top twenty on the back of some early exits in Shanghai, Beijing and Metz, but during one of those games he pushed Nadal all the way; 6-4 6-7 5-7. His best tennis is on hardcourt, but his current form and lack of consistency, especially against top-ranked opponents, is a concern. A quarter-final appearance would be a good result.
Australia’s Best Chance
Nick Kyrgios has decided not to play for the rest of the year due to injury, and therefore there are no Australians in Paris. It’s been a disappointing year for Kyrgios who has battled shoulder, knee and hip injuries, as well as motivation. He was fined for his latest retirement in Shanghai and now has a mountain of work to do to regain form, fitness and fan support. Personally, I believe he can do it. It might take time and there will be setbacks, but how many 22-year-olds can handle the scrutiny Kyrgios is under?
Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray and Djokovic have won the last four Pairs Masters between them. Djokovic’s last victory, in 2015, gave him more Paris Masters’ titles than anyone else.
Federer’s only Paris Masters title was in 2011. He defeated Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, while Nadal lost his only Paris Masters’ final in 2007 to David Nalbandian.
No Australian has ever won a Paris Masters’ title. Marat Safin defeated Mark Philippoussis in five gruelling sets, and then beat Lleyton Hewitt two years later in straight sets. The tournament was reduced from five sets to three in 2007.