This week marks the beginning of the end of one of sport’s most complicated qualification processes.
The Paris Masters is the ninth and final ATP Masters 1000 tour event, the third tier of men’s professional tennis behind Grand Slams and the upcoming ATP World Tour Finals.
To backtrack, the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) World Tour is the annual circuit of men’s professional tennis events, including the four Grand Slams in addition to a multitude of tournaments ranging in prestige. Ranking points are awarded to players based on their performances in these tournaments, and come the end of the year the top eight players qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
The Paris Masters, therefore, represents the final chance to make it into that top eight, and qualify for the season-ending ATP Finals event.
The season thus far has seen the well publicised renaissance of ageing greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, an unexpected accession that has been widely celebrated. Between them they split the four Grand Slam titles and currently sit atop the ATP rankings, with an unassailable lead this season over the injured Andy Murray in third.
Federer has, in fact, withdrawn from the Paris Masters, citing the need to rest after he won the Swiss Indoors title, his seventh of the year, on Sunday. He is therefore unlikely to surpass the Spaniard Nadal, who is 1400 points ahead of him in the ATP rankings.
In fact, the ever growing list of absentees from this year’s tournament has threatened to undermine the competition as we begin proceedings. On top of Federer’s late withdrawal, as well as Murray and Novak Djokovic’s longstanding hiatuses, none of Tomáš Berdych, Nick Kyrgios, Kei Nishikori, Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka will be present in Paris.
But fear not, there remains much to play for at the championship. Whilst Federer and Nadal have long booked their places in the ATP Finals event in November – along with Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic and Grigor Dimitrov – there remain two places up for grabs. These positions are currently occupied by David Goffin and Pablo Carreño Busta, but Sam Querrey, Kevin Anderson, Juan Martin del Potro and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga all remain in contention.
The narrative, therefore, is written. The season boils down to a straight shoot-out between these six men, vying for just two ranking spots. Each has his story. Anderson reached his first Grand Slam final this year – in the US Open – and Querrey made the Wimbledon semis. Del Potro has backed up his impressive return from a debilitating wrist injury that has troubled his tennis throughout his career and Carreño Busta continued his swift rise through the rankings – from 67 at the start of 2016 to 10 at time of writing. Of the six, only Goffin, del Potro and Tsonga have reached the Tour Finals before, whilst Anderson, Querrey and Carreño Busta have all enjoyed the best seasons in their respective careers.
The Paris Masters, then, is a rare prospect in the world of tennis tournaments. Each of these six players goes in with a specific objective. Whether that be to outperform or defeat one of their five rivals, or to win the entire championship, the goal becomes one of pragmatism – qualification. Whilst it may slip under the radar in the sporting universe this week, for these six men, the Paris Masters represents the culmination of a year of work.
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