So here we are. The final ATP event of the season, where the top eight players in the world go toe to toe in the World Tour Finals. Well, almost the top eight players. Neither No. 2 ranked Rafael Nadal nor No. 4 Juan Martin del Potro will be in London, each shelved with injuries.
What does that mean? Well first off, congrats to Kei Nishikori and John Isner for sliding into the field. But from a bigger-picture perspective, without Nadal or Del Potro, it’s hard to imagine Novak Djokovic (Gustavo Kuerten group) or Roger Federer (Lleyton Hewitt group) faltering before the semifinals. Federer and Djokovic have won the event a combined 11 times, the rest of the field — a combined never.
This promises to be a competitive, perhaps even unpredictable, final week of the ATP season. But that didn’t stop us from giving you our elite eight Power Rankings/predictions. And if our rankings are any indication of the picks we made right before the WTA Finals, all we say is … we’ll do better this time around.
Let’s have a look:
1. Novak Djokovic, Kuerten group
Ranking: No. 1
2018 W-L: 49-11, 4 titles
Djokovic is 31-11 with five titles at the ATP Finals. Four of those trophies came at the current site of the championships, the 02 Arena in London. His record since he lost at the Canada Masters in early August is 22-1, but that lone loss was inflicted Sunday in the final of the Paris Masters. If anything, the sting of the loss ought to eliminate any chance of complacency. And while four titles in 2018 might not be a mind-blowing number, Djokovic was slumpjured (slumping as well as injured) until mid-July. Two of his four titles came at Grand Slams, Wimbledon and the US Open, while two were Masters 1000 events. He is the hands-down favorite in London.
2. Roger Federer, Hewitt group
Ranking: No. 3
2018 W-L: 46-8, 4 titles
Djokovic’s overall record in the second half might have been better than Federer’s entire year. And there’s no question that while each man won four titles, only one of Federer’s compares to any of Djokovic’s — that was the Swiss’ win at the Australian Open. But the six-time year-end champion (55-13 overall at ATP Finals) has built great momentum in recent weeks, winning in Basel (his first tournament championship since early summer). Federer also played a brilliant Paris Masters semifinal against Djokovic just days ago, losing in a third-set tiebreaker. So Federer knows his head is in the game. Federer night be 37, but he’s more than capable of ending the year in burst of glory.
3. Dominic Thiem, Hewitt Group
Ranking: No. 8
2018 W-L: 53-18, 3 titles
Thiem has been to London before, but he failed to survive the round robin (2-4) in two previous trips. But the 25-year-old Austrian has a much-improved hard-court game, as evidenced by his 22-8 record and the title he earned in late September in St. Petersburg, Russia. Thiem also was runner-up to Nadal on the clay at the French Open. Thiem then battled the Nadal through one of the best matches at the US Open, losing an epic quarterfinal in a fifth-set tiebreaker. Strong as a bull and hard-working, Thiem is well-positioned to finally make a run in the year-enders.
4. Kevin Anderson, Hewitt group
Ranking: No. 6
2018 W-L: 45-17, 2 titles
Anderson has always longed to take his place among the elites. Since the middle of this year, he’s given the impression he has the mental tools and the game to make that happen. The work he has done with prominent sports psychologist Alexis Castorri is evident in Anderson’s growing assertiveness and focus. Those qualities helped him reach the final at Wimbledon, where he outdueled two fellow London qualifiers, John Isner and Federer, before falling to Djokovic. Anderson’s recent title run in Vienna will be fresh in his mind as he makes his year-end debut. Plus, his shut-down game should work on the indoor hard court, and with Rafa and Delpo out, who knows?
5. Alexander Zverev, Kuerten group
Ranking: No. 5
2018 W-L: 54-18, 3 titles
Zverev is the tour leader in match-wins this year and tied Kei Nishikori for the most hard-court W’s (31). He rolled to titles on hard courts as well as clay, notably the prestigious Madrid Masters 1000. Still, this is a time of transition for Zverev. He tailed off in the second half of the year, losing to players ranked well below him since he won at Washington D.C. He’s also adjusting to a new coaching regimen under the tutelage of former Andy Murray mentor, Ivan Lendl. Zverev has struggled in Grand Slams, but the best-of-three sets and round-robin format (under which a player can advance despite taking a loss) will make it easier for him to survive.
6. Marin Cilic, Kuerten group
Ranking: No. 7
2018 W-L: 41-18, 1 title
There are a couple of ways to look Cilic’s dismal 1-8 record in his three trips to London. It’s either great motivation to do well — or proof that something about the event keeps Cilic out of his comfort zone. He’s always been surprisingly underwhelming for a big man with a powerful game, so it’s likely Cilic will struggle with having to play a series of tough matches against elite players right out of the blocks. But Cilic has a respectable 23-11 record on hard courts this year, and he’s a former US Open champion.
7. Kei Nishikori, Hewitt Group
Ranking: No. 9
2018 W-L: 47-20, 0 titles
Nishikori is a superb hard-court player, as evidenced by his 31 match-wins on that surface this season. He failed to win a title in 2018, but he put together a nice late-season surge that ought to boost his confidence in London. Nishikori, now 28, is 4-7 in London and a two-time semifinalist. He’ll feel comfortable, but he’ll be facing two big hitters and the versatile genius of Federer in the round-robin portion.
8. John Isner, Kuerten group
Ranking: No. 10
2018 W-L: 34-19, 2 titles
It’s tempting to bump Isner up higher for two reasons: He won the Miami Masters in March, a breakthrough tournament, and he’s swinging freely while enjoying a career year. On the other hand, Isner has lost all four matches against top-10 players since the final of Miami. Plus, he only backed into this tournament — his first appearance in a year-end finals — because of Nadal’s withdrawal. Isner won both his 2018 titles on hard courts, and his record on the surface was 21-13. That monstrous serve could prove to the most disruptive element at the event. It might not get Isner the crown, but it could become the kingmaker if he pulls off an upset in his group — or even in the semis.
Semifinals: Djokovic def. Federer; Thiem def. Zverev
Final: Djokovic def. Thiem