To the casual tennis fan, this year’s ATP Finals can probably be described as “Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and…everyone else.” Each of the tournament’s two group consists of one very famous player (Federer or Nadal) and three relative unknowns. The rest of the ATP’s ruling establishment—Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori—has been wiped out by injury.
For non-casual fans, though, the next week will be an opportunity to watch a fresh crop of players compete for this most prestigious of non-major titles. Alexander Zverev, Jack Sock, and Grigor Dimitrov will make their London debuts, while David Goffin and Dominic Thiem will be in action at the 02 for just the second time. They may not be legends, but they can all be entertaining, and we’ll almost surely see more of them in the future. It will be interesting to find out which, if any, can get a foothold in this tournament, and close the season on an upswing.
Yesterday I previewed Group Pete Sampras here.
Below is a look at Group Boris Becker, and what we can expect to see from each player.
Group Boris Becker: Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Jack Sock
Rank: No. 2
Record vs. Group: 12-3
Which statistic would you choose to give someone an idea of just how long Federer has been on tour? The fact that he’s won the ATP Finals six times, yet hasn’t done it since 2011, should give you a pretty good idea. But even after all that time, Federer is the favorite to do it again. Along with his 12-3 record against his group, he’s 49-4 this year—32-3 on hard courts, and 5-0 on indoor hard. He’s also on a 10-match win streak. The only slight cause of concern for Federer in London is his 2-2 record against ATP Finals rookie Zverev. Experience should help.
Rank: No. 3
Record vs. Group: 6-4
Zverev is just 20, and he’s making his O2 debut, but he accumulated more ranking points this season than anyone other than Nadal and Federer, and he doesn’t have a losing record against anyone in his group. All of that bodes well for the German, this week and in the future. But there are still two questions to consider with Zverev: (1) Will it take him some time to get used to the all-eyes-on-you spotlight that this tournament shines on each player?; and (2) It has been a long season; does he have a final push in him? Zverev is here on the strength of his five titles, but the last of them came in Montreal in August. Since then, he’s just 8-7, and 6-4 on indoor hard courts for the year.
Rank: No. 5
Record vs. Group: 2-12
Cilic’s record against his group-mates is an eye-popper, isn’t it? The fact that he’s 1-7 against Federer isn’t a surprise, but 1-3 against Zverev and 0-2 against Sock? Cilic is ranked No. 5, but based on his head to head with his peers, his lack of titles this year—he’s won one, a 250 in Istanbul—and his dismal 1-5 record in his two previous ATP Finals appearances, the 29-year-old’s ceiling would seem to be a good deal lower than that at the moment. To have a chance of advancing to the semis, he may have to hope to catch Zverev on a nervous night.
Rank: No. 9
Record vs. Group: 3-4
Sock shocked the world, and himself, last week with his run to his first Masters 1000 title, in Paris. When he started the tournament, he had no idea he could still qualify for London, but his victory launched him all the way from No. 24 to No. 9 in the world. Now: Can he keep it up? Sock played with a newfound calm and composure in Paris—“keeping my nose down,” as he put it—that may have come from the fact that he believed his season was essentially over. Will he stay that calm in London? If so, more surprises could be in store from the American. He’s 2-0 against Cilic, and 1-1 against Zverev.
Prediction: Federer and Zverev advance
Finals pick: Federer defeats Nadal