Already a Member ? Member Login | Premium Services Login


Australian Open Roland Garros Wimbledon Championships US open


The final few tournaments of the year always provide some drama as players scramble to make the Championships. It’s well known that between 3,000 to 3,500 points will put you right in the mix to compete in the final 8 and to do that you need to perform well at the Majors. This year has been no different with the final 3 spots clinched in the final tournament of the year in Paris.

But, this event has a much different feel to it than the Majors. Not better or worse, just entirely different that can be a little intimidating for those players who qualify for the 1st time.

The Grand Slams are enormous. The main draws consist of 128 men and women. Add to that the same number of doubles players plus qualifiers, juniors, legend events, wheelie competitors and the ever growing player entourages, family and friends. The courts are packed, practice court time is sparse, locker rooms are crowded and bustling, player restaurants are pumping and the grounds are filled with tens of thousands of fans. Media surrounds every practice court as they scramble for footage and interviews, and not a moment goes by where you don’t feel the excitement of competing in something very large. There is a special vibe to a Grand Slam that can’t be replaced and all the players, fans, sponsors and media love it.

For the Year End Championships, it’s completely reversed. Each player is assigned his own locker room, which provides a unique and sometimes lonely feel to the event. Remember, these guys are used to fellow players hanging out, joking around with coaches, locker room attendants providing assistance, trainers & physio’s attending multiple players at a time. When you walk into your private locker room and close the door it’s quiet, really quiet. That is unless you’re stuck next to one of the Spanish players and then all hell breaks loose during a football game.

Practice court time is available, well, whenever you want it really. Not having to scramble for a practice court is a nice change but remember there are only 8 players competing so most players will wait until the draw is complete and then organize practice with players that are not in their group stage matches. Or, they will bring in practice partners for the week leading in so as not to give their opposition a feel for their game. That will be rare this week as the Paris event bumps right up next to London with no rest for those who do well in Bercy.

It is not unusual to walk into the player restaurant lounge and find you are the only person there. It’s kinda eerie actually. Have you ever eaten in a restaurant and looked around to find you’re the only person dining? Granted, these days most players travel with a pretty big team so you will find them gathered as a group in a corner of the player restaurant talking anything but tennis.

Each player is normally assigned his own driver to transport him and his team to and from the hotel. Even that provides a point of difference from a regular event when players scramble to the transport office to wait in line for a lift back to the hotel.

While practicing in the lead up days to the event the stadium is EMPTY. There are no qualifying matches or crowds gathered to watch practice. It is normally deadly silent in the arena except for a few workers cleaning up the place or doing final touch-ups, but it’s an uneasy silence attached to an event that is so big.

My point is… it’s very different and players that compete for the first time in the World Tour Finals can find it to be a little daunting.

Here’s what doesn’t change though. When the time comes to play and the lights are dimmed, they call your name and the players walk out through a smoky entrance with speakers thumping out your chosen song to a packed stadium erupting into applause, the excitement level kicks up about 20 notches. That’s when the hairs stand up on the arms, the goosebumps come emerge and the nerves kick in regardless of whether you’re playing, coaching, sitting in the player box as a friend or watching as a fan. It’s game on with the best 8 players in the world and there really is something special and unique about the World Tour Finals.

The competitors:


This has certainly been one of Rafa’s most successful years but I would not be the least bit surprised if he reflects on this season as being his most satisfying. After 7 months out of the game and dealing with a lot of demons in his head about how his knees would hold up upon his return, his performances in 2013 have been remarkable. The period from the US Open to the Year End Championships have never been a great hunting ground for him. Rafa puts so much effort into his clay season and normally continues to ride that wave through to September. The indoor surfaces are not perfect for his game. The courts play slightly faster with more of a dead lower bounce, which reacts better to the fast flat ball or heavy slice. Rafa likes a fast court but loves a court that takes his spin and kicks the ball up high. This London court flattens his

ball out. His shots instead of being above the shoulder of opponents are stuck waist height in the hitting zone. If Rafa were to win in London it truly would cap a remarkable year as this court provides his most difficult test. He is placed in a group that is more favorable to him and I expect him to come through and compete on the weekend. A loss to Ferrer in the Paris semifinals was surprising but not a big blow as it will allow Rafa an extra vital day of rest before he starts his quest to secure the year end #1 ranking in London.


A man, who doesn’t own much hair on his helmet, that has won 8 majors in his career, walks a little pigeon toed and knew a thing or two about hitting a double-handed backhand, once said to me “any year a player wins a major, I promise you, it’s been a great year. Don’t let anyone tell you differently”. Novak has owned Australia in recent years. He comes prepared, hungry and focused after having enjoyed a few weeks break from his heavy playing schedule. After his AO victory, most of Novak’s attention turned to the French Open. His desire to win in Paris has been well documented and after being inches away from defeating the man that has ruled claycourts in this generation, it was no surprise to see him suffer a mini letdown after that crushing semifinal loss to Rafa. Yes, he made the final

of Wimbledon and the US Open, but to me he didn’t play and walk with that same confidence that we’ve become used to. That says even more about his resolve and fighting qualities that he was able to make those finals. But, he’s back. His form in the run up to London has been wonderful and he’s still an outside chance to claim the year-end #1 ranking. That fact alone is remarkable considering how dominant Rafa has been in 2013. It also shows that even while struggling a little, it is important to keep putting wins on the board to give you a shot at #1. It is why Andy Murray hasn’t reached #1 yet as his down moments provide too many early round losses. The court is perfect for Novak and he’s the defending champion. In my opinion, he’s the man to beat.


Try and write a few paragraphs about David and NOT use the word “respect”. It’s nearly impossible. Here ‘s my best way to sum up Mr Ferrer. My little boy has just started getting into tennis and absolutely loves it. He’s 12 and sits with me while watching tennis as we discuss what’s going on. I must use the David Ferrer example about 9 times out of 10 as to how I would like Benjamin to go about his dream of playing tennis, no matter what level he achieves. From work ethic, to competitive spirit, to maximizing your talent, to evolving his

game into an attacking baseliner for all surfaces, to being willing to problem solve, to plain out being a good guy that everybody loves who will look you in the eye and shake your hand hard after a defeat and tell you “very well played”.Any youngster that has a bit of David Ferrer in them is all-good in my books. Yes, it’s true that he can be overpowered by some of the big guns in London, but shhhhh…. no-one is about to tap the Little Beast on the shoulder to tell him that because he will ignore and probably defy you, as he’s done so many times in his career already. He’s played a lot leading into London and lost his last handful of finals but his win over Nadal in the semifinals of Paris will wipe away any disappointment that may have carried with it.


One of the big positives of this year has been the steady improvement shown by the big Argentine. If DelPo is not your favorite player to watch (he is definitely my wife’s favorite) then he’s probably your second favorite. His match against Novak in the semifinals of Wimbledon left a mark on the tennis world for many reasons and it’s because of that match that most believe he will win another Major very soon, myself included. His form has been excellent of late. A win over Federer in the final of Basel was made of strong stuff, and an early loss in Paris is not a bad thing for DelPo as he’ll get time to freshen up. The court in London will suit his game as the ball will sit right in his strike zone and he will be able to wail away at those blistering groundstrokes.

He’s improved moving forward to the net and getting down for the low ball, which he will see with more regularity on the London court. His left wrist looks to have improved as he’s crushing more double handed backhands since the US Open and that’s a great sign moving forward. It would surprise no-one to see him win in London but he is stuck in the stronger group and will need to be at his best from the 1st match.


While he was the 5th qualifier for the Year End Championships, I don’t believe it’s been a great year for Tomas. A couple of quarterfinal showings in Majors, no tournament wins and three finals appearances in smaller tournaments has left Tomas with no real standout result for the season. But, he’s been consistently good racking up over 50 wins to qualify for the 4th straight year. Early in his career he was unpredictable. One week he’d

look like a world-beater and the next he looked like he was his own worst enemy on the court. He’s done a great job in the last 4 years of becoming more professional,a better athlete and harnessing his big weapons to use them more effectively. On his day he’s capable of ripping through any field and Tomas is placed in the group that he’s more than capable of making the semis. He’s not a great wind player and it has let him down in a lot of big matches but with the O2 stadium tucked away nicely indoors with no elements to contend with, Tomas may just catch fire for the week.


The Federer. C’mon Fed Fans, fess up….. you were panicking just a little after the US Open when Roger was struggling to make it to London, weren’t you? Oh my goodness you guys are the most fierce and loyal supporters tennis has ever known, and we love you for it! Any hint of writing your boy off and it’s “Straight to the Sin Bin” for the person responsible. The thing is, we would never write Roger off and most believe Roger is still capable of winning another major title, myself included. There’s no question that his year has been a struggle. Injuries have plagued him more than ever in his career and he’s been unable to find that

right balance of rest, rehab, training and competing that makes being successful into your 30’s so important. Prioritizing for your career and shedding some tournament, sponsor, ATP, exhibitions and charitable responsibilities become that more important if you’re looking to squeeze the very best out of your last few years. No-one has been better for the sport than Rog. He’s gone above and beyond in every respect to lead, promote and improve the state of game. These last few years for Roger should be about one thing and one thing only, and that’s “WHAT IS BEST FOR MY TENNIS”. He’s shown great signs in the last few weeks. His offensive speed looks to be back and he looks sharp around the net. He’s driving up to his serve a little more with his legs, which means the percentage is up and the free points have been helping. The training camp he recently held with Paul Annacone and Severin Luthi is paying dividends and don’t be surprised if the old (not that old!) dog continues to bark loud in London!


Stan came to Adelaide a couple of years ago to compete in the World Tennis Challenge and I had the pleasure of spending some time with him both on and off the court. Beyond the obvious that we can all see about Stan, what struck me more than anything was his fierce desire to become a threat in the Majors. Stan was saying all the right things but he was a long way off that and things had to change. In my opinion he's grown up a lot in the last couple of years and become his own man, somewhat jumping out of the Federer shadow. He invested in himself by hiring a successful

coach in Magnus Norman. We've seen him train harder than ever to be able go the distance with the big guns in the Majors. He had a tendency to get overly disappointed in big matches when it started to slip away from him, that's now gone. He's spoken out on tennis issues including his desire to see Federer play more Davis Cup for Switzerland and we've seen him play a smarter schedule to give him a better chance of peaking for the Majors. More than anything, we can see that he now believes in himself on the big stage. In January, Stan said smiling that he was going to finish the year in the top 8 and I fully believed he could do it, but I always wondered whether he really believed it. He answered that question emphatically. Stan will need to be wary of what I spoke about at the top of the blog about this event having a different feel to it. He cannot afford to be satisfied with just making the field in London and needs to use this as a springboard to a big assault next year. He's placed in the group that gives him a real shot at the semifinal stage if he plays well. Remember the Djokovic match at the AO? Now it's up to Stan the Man to finish the year the way he started it.


My good friend and fellow ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert is well known for his nicknames and refers the Richard as Dickie Gasket. I'm not sure there's been a more appropriate nickname, as there are few players more fun to watch when playing well, and few more frustrating when the gaskets start to blow. He's another player that has had enough with just being a solid player and in the last 2 years invested in himself to take the next step. It's paid off. In came the dynamic coaching duo of Ricardo Piatti and Sebastian Grosjean to give this enormously talented player some tough love. He had to work harder in practice sessions, work harder off court to improve his speed, hold a stronger court position near the baseline and improve his mental toughness. Richard has done an excellent job of improving all of these aspects. He will need to serve well in London as this is a big underrated part of his game. Richard is a rhythm server than can put the ball

on a dime and that allows him to be more offensive and not slip too far behind the baseline. While his backhand is a thing of beauty the top players do not fear it, and that means Richard will need to bring other parts of his game to the party. He's in the tough group with Novak, Roger and Juan Martin so a semifinal appearance would be a huge result for the Frenchman.

Rafael Nadal
David Ferrer
Tomas Berdych
Stan Wawrinka

Novak Djokovic
Juan Martin del Potro
Roger Federer
Richard Gasquet

Each group will play 3 round robin matches and the two best players will move into the semifinal stage.

The best performer from Group A will play the second best performer from Group B.
The second best performer from Group A will play the best performer from Group B.

The two winners of the semifinals will play in the Year End Championships Final.


Cliff Drysdale, BG and myself will be travelling to London to call the matches for ESPN2 starting on Thursday. Hope you enjoy the tennis and good luck to all the competitors.

Darren Features Tour

Video lessons

Pro match analysis

Ask a pro coach

Pro stroke analysis

Live chat

And more ...

Stick offer