The story so far
Already qualified are Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, and Marin Cilic. Federer and Nadal were the first to book their places and are the two favourites for the title after enjoying remarkably resurgent seasons in which they each added two more Grand Slams to their esteemed collections.
Zverev became the third player to guarantee his place at the O2 after a stunning season in which he won five titles, including two Masters 1000s. He is an interesting case in that he has also qualified for the inaugural NextGen ATP Finals in Milan, taking place the week before London. He has previously stated that he wants to compete in both but, after a long season where he has played over 70 matches already, the young German should exercise caution as he looks to avoid burnout going into the Year-End Championship and the upcoming 2018 season.
Thiem has backed up his breakthrough last season with that same level of consistency this year. This has allowed him to qualify for London for the second year in a row. He has clearly put more thought into his schedule as well, taking part in fewer 250-level events in order to conserve his energy for the most important tournaments. This firmly paid off for him as he reached the French Open Semis and the Final of the Madrid Masters.
Recently qualified after his run to the semifinals in Shanghai is former US Open champion Marin Cilic. He had a shaky start to the season, losing early in Melbourne, Indian Wells, and Miami. However, the Croat turned it around to achieve what he considers his best-ever clay season, winning the title in Istanbul and reaching the quarterinals in Roland Garros. That said, his season highlight was undoubtedly reaching the Wimbledon final, where he came up against an imperious Roger Federer. His qualification marks the thrd time in the last four seasons that he will compete at the O2.
The remaining contenders
On the verge of qualifying is Grigor Dimitrov, who has enjoyed an uncharacteristically steady season. The Bulgarian looks set to make his London debut after his career best year, which saw him lift his first Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati and reach the Australian Open semifinals. He requires just a few more points to book his place, which he is expected to achieve this week in Stockholm. If not, though, he will have have another opportunity in Paris, or could get in due to others losing their necessary matches.
Injuries have sadly forced Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic to end their seasons early and withdraw from contention in playing in the World Tour Finals as they look to regain fitness in time for the 2018 season. Currently occupying the remaining two places in their absence are David Goffin and Pablo Carreno Busta. Both men had excellent starts to the season, which saw them each manage a number of deep runs in the early tournaments; Goffin reached the quarterfinals of the Australian Open and semifinals of Monte Carlo, while Carreno Busta got to the semifinals in Indian Wells and the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. Coincidentally, both picked up injuries during the French Open which caused them to miss the entire grass season, including Wimbledon. Carreno Busta’s comeback was more rapid as he fully regained fitness before the end of the American hard court swing. This recovery allowed him to take advantage of a weakened US Open draw and reach his first Grand Slam semifinal. Goffin’s resurgence has happened in recent weeks, as he won his first titles of the season in Shenzhen and Tokyo.
The Belgian’s impressive form and performances against stronger opposition bodes well for him going into the last tournaments of the year. Carreno Busta has recently had something of a slump and will need to find his US Open form again if he is to cap off a great year with a place in the World Tour Finals.
Despite both enjoying a strong 2017, neither Goffin nor Carreno Busta are guaranteed a place alongside Nadal, Federer, et al. Several big names remain in contention as they look to consolidate their excellent seasons with a chance to compete at the 02. Leading the pack is Sam Querrey. The big-serving American has found his best form during the biggest tournaments, achieving a semifinal in Wimbledon and a quarterfinal in the US Open. These two results combined with wins in Los Cabos and Acapulco have given Querrey an excellent platform for qualifying if he can make a strong last push in the remaining few weeks of the year. Querrey trails Carreno Busta by a mere 80 points heading into this week.
Just behind Querrey is US Open Finalist Kevin Anderson, who overcame injury struggles at the start of the year to put together an outstanding run of results from the French Open onwards that saw him climb from outside the top 60 to as high as #15 in the rankings. Despite two surprise early losses during the Asian swing, he remains in good form and should expect to compete well in Stockholm, Vienna, and Paris-Bercy.
Ignoring Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych–another two who have ended their seasons prematurely due to injury–the next closest contender for the event is Nick Kyrgios. Kyrgios has displayed enough brilliance during the year to show that he is capable of beating any other player on the tour if he is focused. Unfortunately, those situations have come in brief flashes rather than over any extended period. The best of Kyrgios could be seen in Miami, where he was unlucky to lose what was one of the matches of the year against Federer in the semifinals. He also crushed Nadal in the quarterfinals of Cincinnati on his way to his first Masters 1000 final. It could be argued that mental fragility has been the Australian’s biggest downfall this year; he failed to make it past the second round in any of this year’s Grand Slams. However, he has also been the victim of a number of injuries that have kept him from playing his best, leaving qualification for London as a major long shot. If Kyrgios is to qualify, he will most likely need to go deep in the Paris Masters as well as in the other tournaments he’s competing in.
Goffin is probably the best player of those still chasing a spot in London. He is in excellent form with his success in Asia. He also has a 145-point lead over the next closest challenger and is the favourite for the title in Antwerp. For these reasons, I would be very surprised if he didn’t end up qualifying. The other place is less clear. Carreno Busta is the front runner but only by a mere 80 points ahead of Querrey and 180 ahead of Anderson. However, he’s the number one seed in Moscow this week as he takes on a fairly weak field in the Russian capital. He will be looking to maximise his point return there while Anderson takes on the likes of Dimitrov and Juan Martin del Potro in a strong Stockholm draw.
Incredibly, Querrey decided not to play a tournament this week, giving Anderson a chance to make up the 100 point deficit that he faces against the American. All three have entered Vienna and will fancy their chances of winning there, with Federer and Nadal opting to play in Basel. Kyrgios will also be present in Basel but remains some way off the rest, especially if he is still recovering from the injury that forced him to retire in Shanghai. As always, there will be plenty of drama in Paris as the lineup for the Finals gets closer to being revealed. By then, the permutations and possibilities will be much clearer and one of the places could potentially already be decided.
If it’s as I predict, David Goffin will get there in the end. Then, taking everything into consideration, it’s likely that we can rule out Kyrgios unless he mounts a huge comeback. Between the remaining three, I have decided to go with Kevin Anderson to join Goffin in London. I see him as the strongest player in the running and has the weapons required to make deep runs in both Vienna and Paris, which will allow him to get the necessary points to qualify.