The End Is Nigh

Paris Masters 1000, Third Round

(5) Berdych d. (11) Tipsarevic, 7/5 6/4

Monaco d. (7) Fish, 1/6 7/6 1/2 ret.

(1) Djokovic d. (15) Troicki, 4/6 6/3 6/1

The consequences of Tomas Berdych’s perpetually evolving victory over Janko Tipsarevic in Paris today will resonate both in the short term and the long. Most immediately, it means that the final line up for the World Tour Finals has been decided (perhaps), meaning the ATP website will have to find something else to go on about for the time being. This outcome is being widely reported, as expected.*

Less discussed, but unarguably more profound, has been the ineradicable demonstration that robotics has progressed to the point whereby even a merely steady AI will overcome a fallible human. The ending has begun. It may seem a large jump from Berdych to Skynet, but tyranny never begins all at once. Later generations, huddled starving in their bunkers, will view Berdych’s first win over Tipsarevic in five meetings as a tipping point, the point when the machines gained something like sentience, and watched on in wonder as the humans discarded theirs. Twice.

Tipsarevic blew leads in both sets, and both times the collapse was total. It is one thing to be broken back while serving for a set, even indoors, but it quite another be broken again and again. Berdych can admittedly be a terrifying prospect when he is imposing his game, with ‘game’ in this sense meaning hitting the ball very hard from the baseline. Beijing was a good example. Today was nothing like that. He was merely steady, having realised – sentience! – that even at 1/5 down, nothing more was required. Tipsarevic makes serving for a set look like the most precarious position imaginable. Perhaps I am being harsh, but the Serb will finish 2011 in the top ten, and this will be his final match of his break-out season (perhaps).

The reason I qualify the point is that Tipsarevic has narrowly missed out on a Tour Finals berth, but will go in as first alternate should one of the qualifiers withdraw for any reason. As it happens, Mardy Fish managed to injure himself whilst seeing off Juan Monaco, and was compelled to retire. As a rule, I have little patience for precautionary retirements, but clearly the decision not to proceed was justified. This will be his first appearance at the Tour Finals, and even those who qualify every year regard it as an honour. He was clearly injured, and sacrificing his spot merely to grind out a painful win in Bercy – and then face Federer – understandably held little allure.

Novak Djokovic doubtless enjoyed a broadly similar apathy coming into his match against Viktor Troicki. He certainly looked disinclined to win, and sprayed several hundred errors in dropping the first set. There was more of the same to begin the second, except that Troicki reverted to type, and could not gain the decisive break no matter how many times Djokovic double faulted. The world No.1 somehow held at 2/2, and then realised that even down a set it would be quicker and easier just to win the thing and get off court. He allowed Troicki just two more games, which is two more than he deserved.

*The final three qualifiers are Berdych, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Mardy Fish.

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