Valencia, Second Round
Querrey d. (2) Tsonga, 7/6 6/2
With five of the eight London spots in already claimed, the race for the remaining three is tight, which under ideal circumstances would mean that the contenders are giving their all, especially with a scant two weeks of the regular season remaining. The front-runners are Tomas Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish, and you could throw a blanket over them, presuming that burly men draped in bedding is your thing.
If tennis is a momentum sport – and it is – then it is worth pointing out that none of these burly men have progressed beyond the second round this week in Valencia or Basel, posting losses to Nishikori, Blake and Querrey respectively. I could say that theyâ€™re saving themselves for a final push at the Paris Indoors next week, but that would be generous, and is probably only likely for Tsonga, who like all Frenchmen generally excels at the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy, having won there in 2008. Meanwhile, 2010 surely taught Berdych – or the maintenance crew that keeps him operational – that scraping in to the Tour Finals on a losing streak is a recipe for failure. He was impressive in Beijing, but hasnâ€™t been since. Meanwhile, Fish has never performed well in this part of the season, despite conditions apparently tailor made for his game. To be fair, he was compelled to withdraw from Basel after nearly hurting his knee.
Last year the final few qualifiers all gained their berth on days they posted losses. Naturally, qualification for London reflects a seasonâ€™s worth of achievements, but it still felt appropriate (although Soderling claimed Bercy after that). Subsequently, none of them impressed at the O2, and although it was hard to blame them for not making it out of the round robin stage – the Big Four were untouchable – they could surely have acquitted themselves better. Glandular fever has wrecked Soderlingâ€™s 2011, and he wonâ€™t be in London this time. Andy Roddick is the other man missing, for the first time in years, and I doubt heâ€™ll ever be back. If we are not to see a repeat of last year, in which Nos.5-8 were merely fodder for the insatiable elite above them, the remaining contenders had better find some form. They canâ€™t all win Paris, but they can do well, and ensure that the round robin stage in London is more than a tune-up for the big boys.