Barclays ATP World Tour Finals 2015
by MAC

I've never liked the World Tour Finals. At the end of a long season, it strikes me as more of a punishment for the top eight to have to play another intense tournament while the rest of the players have their feet up. It's even worse for those who have a Davis Cup final the next week. (You only have to look at the last few years to see how committed those players are to playing their best at the WTF.)

As is often said, it's Rafa's least favourite surface and being indoors takes away any advantage he gains by being able to deal well with adverse weather conditions. I think a lot of us were relieved that Rafa was drawn in a group with Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka rather than either Djokovic or Federer but we still weren't expecting great results.

When he lost his opening game to love against Stan Wawrinka, I wasn't optimistic. When he broke straight back, also to love, I dared to hope it mightn't be too bad. The first set was pretty tense for me sitting in the stands. I was thrilled when he took it but still not relaxed. The second set was a much easier ride and it was great to see him win it easily to take the match, 6-3, 6-2 and thus lead the group standings.

From the post match press conference...

" I think I play well. I think I play a solid match. I had one bad game, the first one of the match. But then immediately I was playing well, no?

"I had a good week of practice here. I think I played the way that I wanted to play. I played aggressive. I played with not many mistakes. Just the thing I can do a little bit better is serving. For the moment I didn't serve as good as I was doing in the previous days.

"But for the rest, all the shots worked well: backhand, forehand, good volleys, good smash, no missing the smashes today. So that's good."

We'd thought that Andy Murray might not play his best with the Davis Cup final looming but he'd won his first match with ease. When Rafa dropped his opening service game it looked like this would be tough.Once again, though, Rafa broke straight back. Much like his first match, it was a tightish first set but then Rafa rolled over Murray in the second to win, 6-4, 6-1.

From the post match press conference...
"Well, is an important victory obviously because that put me in a good position to try to be in the semifinals, and at the same time I have a big day against a great player in a tough surface.

"I just happy the way that I play today, happy the way I working, as I say the other day. Just another step for me be able to play at that level against such a great player is good news. Happy for that. Just want to try to keep working the same way to keep confirming that I am in the completely right direction."

We then had a nice extra surprise when Rafa stayed around for the presentation to Lleyton Hewitt.

By beating Murray, Rafa had qualified for the semi finals in first place in the group. The final round robin match, against David Ferrer, could not change that whatever the outcome. Matches against, Ferrer, however, are rarely straightforward and despite the head to head being overwhelmingly in Rafa's favour, honours are just about even on a hard court.

When Rafa broke Ferrer twice to race to a 3-0 lead it looked like it would all be over pretty quickly. Wrong. Ferrer raced about the court getting everything back that Rafa could throw at him. (Not literally, obviously.) He clawed back the two breaks, dropped serve in the eleventh game only to break Rafa again as he was serving for the set. Rafa played a woeful tiebreak and suddenly he was a set down.

Part of me hoped he would just lose quickly in the second set to save his energies for the semi final less than 24 hours away. But that's not Rafa. And, of course, there were 200 points and a certain amount of pride at stake in this match. He upped his level and fought back well to take the match, 6-7(2) 6-3 6-4.

From the post match press conference...
"For me is an important victory. Doesn't matter if I was qualified. As I said before, for me the main goal is try to arrive in good shape next year. Today was an opportunity to play against another of the top eight players of the world in a tough surface, good surface for him. I think he likes to play here.

"For me was another opportunity to compete. I think I competed well. I won a very tough match. I think a very good match in terms of quality for moments. I am very happy. Three straight wins against top-eight players, that's a great news for me.

"Today was an opportunity, as I say before, to compete well. 200 points are not the same when you are No. 1 and No. 2 than when you are No. 5. Winning today is almost like winning a 250 tournament. Was a lot of points to win today. I fighted to made that happen, no?"

Even had he not played for 2 and a half hours the day before, he would not have been the favourite in the semi final against Novak Djokovic. It was not a surprise, therefore, when he lost 3-6, 3-6.

He did extraordinarily well to beat three top eight players and register his second successive clean sweep of the round robin section of the tournament. As he said himself, "That's a positive way to finish the season. I am very happy about what I did in the last five weeks of the season. I finish the season the way that I really want to start the next one."

Time for a gratuitous shirtless pic to end.


Enhorabuena, Rafa
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