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LaRosa's Sweet Spot: Nov 18, 2009

11/18/2009 12:00:00 AM

LaRosa's Sweet Spot Main Page

Nov 18, 2009


The World Tour Finals begin Sunday, and I'm going to be real honest with you guys: I'm totally geeking out.

Not just because the name change allows me to toss around the acronym WTF with reckless abandon. This year's finals are so different from years past that it feels like a shiny new toy at Christmas.

Part of me is worried I might just play with the wrapping. The move to London was so so brilliant, with organizers sparing no expense in promoting the event, commissioning boats to whisk players to and from the glorious O2 venue (most famous for where Michael Jackson was slated to perform his ill-fated 50-show comeback extravaganza), and staging a multi-media rock & roll spectacular for your between-match entertainment. The result: over a quarter of a million tickets sold (so none of those ghastly empty seats on TV that chip away at your very soul).

What those ticket holders are getting is a front row seat to some seriously high drama. Unlike last year, when Rafael Nadal was such a lock for year-end No 1 that he didn't even bother showing up, and Roger Federer and Andy Murray were so punch drunk after their round robin encounter that neither even made it into the final, this year every single combatant has something to play for. And something to lose.

FEDAL:

2009 was not kind to Fedal (or Naderer, I'm not sure what the kids at US Weekly are calling them these days). In fact, since those flashbulbs lit up the darkness after the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have met a total of twice. That's two times in a year and a half people.

It's led to a lot of tongue wagging about the state of The Rivalry (cue melodramatic choral singers). Our collective hysteria was sped up by a certain Mr. Andre Agassi's contention in October that we were indeed nearing the end of The Era.

What this has all led to is a first. Come Sunday, all eyes will be on Naderer not to see if Rafa can make an eleventh hour snatch of the year-end No 1 crown from Roger, but to see what shape these two are in for an indication of what 2010 is going to look like.

That's unheard of. Normally it didn't matter a whit how the year wound down. Fine, Nikolay Davydenko or David Ferrer or James Blake managed to burrow his way into the year end final, but in the immortal words of Fred Armisen as Joy Behar on Saturday Night Live, so what? Who cares? Everyone is broken down and busted at the end of the year, we'll just hit control-alt-delete, reboot and start again with Roger and Rafa in the driver's seat. As always.

But injury and age have yanked the rug out from under Naderer in '09, robbing the both of them of their air of infallibility. Rafa's been slumming his way through more three-setters than not, and Rog's last match was a loss to Julien Benneteau. WTF indeed.

These two have a lot to prove to the naysayers. They have a lot to prove to themselves. And they have a lot to prove to the Bobbsey Twins nipping at their heels. They're gonna want to prove it.

The Mur of Murkovic

MURKOVIC

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are playing for a lot more than points. These good buddies have their greatest window yet to bust the Roger/Rafa stranglehold open wide. And these are guys who've been pinned to the court by their necks for the better part of two years by Fedal. Having just beaten both Fed and Nadal in back-to-back tournaments, Djokovic has by far the most momentum of any player going into Sunday. But he's also defending champion, a role he hasn't fully embraced in the past. Meanwhile, Murray has the added pressure of playing in front of the home crowd (and as Agassi's pick as the Next Big Thing). A finals win would help make their case for the true heir apparent. And don't think they don't know it.

DEL SODERLING

Juan Martin del Potro and Robin Soderling have a lot in common. The win that got them each here was a huge Slam shock, and it came at the expense of Fedal. Oh, and thanks to the draw, they're each guaranteed a rematch. Was their success a fluke? Or do they really belong in the conversation? That's for them to know and us to find out.

DAVYDASCO

Honestly, Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Verdasco have nothing to prove since there's so little fanfare surrounding them, I just didn't have the heart to leave them out. Which just means we'll see them both in the final.

Actually, I'm only half-joking.

Semis: Davydenko d. Murray, Federer d. Djokovic

Winner: Federer

But anything could happen. They don't call it WTF for nuthin'.

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Want to see how many times I can change my predictions? Follow me at Twitter.com/JamesLaRosa. We can WTF together.