Four men down, four men still standing. Actually it’s five men down now, which says a lot about the physical state of those that have competed this week.
It was rather fitting that the round robin phase should come to a conclusion with the renowned fighter David Ferrer capitulating from a set and a break up against Tomas Berdych – a player not exactly known for his intestinal fortitude – because it’s been ridiculous from start to finish.
Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have all fallen meekly by the wayside.
Murray withdrew after one match with a groin problem while the paths of the world’s top two were largely similar.
Both Djokovic and Nadal produced three largely abject performances, toughing out three set marathons in their openers but emptying their final fuel reserves in the process.
For Djokovic, his win from match point down against Berdych was as good as it got and was followed up by insipid defeats to Ferrer and Janko Tipsarevic.
Thanks to Berdych’s improbable victory against Ferrer, Djokovic’s season is now over (to the Serb’s great relief no doubt) but Nadal will be forced to make use of whatever fumes are left in his tank and get in shape for his nation’s Davis Cup final against Argentina that starts December 2.
All in all, it’s been a subdued tournament with the standard of tennis generally below par.
While length of season is undoubtedly a factor, so too is the surface at London’s 02 Arena. Quite simply, it’s just too slow for this time of the year.
This is the time of year for ice-rinks and aces.
The time of year for ten second service holds, audible gasps when a player goes 0-15 on serve and final set tiebreak matches that are done and dusted in 90 minutes.
It’s impossible to expect the players to produce consistent top level tennis over long rallies in late November and three hour grinds don’t do anyone any good.
I’m thinking of myself as much as the players here. While their bodies may be fatigued, they have nothing on my poor attention span, beaten into an absolute pulp by 11 months of non-stop tennis.
A six shot rally feels like a five day test cricket match at this time of the year.
It can’t be just me that feels this way given that the pink shirt Ferrer donned for the third set of his defeat to Berdych provoked more discussion among fans and journalists on twitter than did the match itself.
As for the surface issue, it can’t be taken in isolation and the cumulative effects of slow conditions have undoubtedly had a serious impact on the standard of tennis in the last month or so.
This isn’t being wise with hindsight either. It was obvious watching the sheer, unbridled brutality of the US Open final that neither Nadal nor Djokovic would come close to scaling those heights for the remainder of the season.
So it has proved.
The problem with the season length has been recognised by players. The issue with rally and match length doesn’t seem to have registered in the same way.
In this instance, Roger Federer is the exception and has always credited his relatively injury-free career and longevity in the game to an aggressive style .
While it’s a style that is utterly impossible for anyone else to emulate, more fast courts would surely reduce the burden on those rivals of his whose inveterate nature is to counter-punch.
Either way, it has been clear this week that Federer is a class above his closest rivals right now and the tournament looks like his to lose.
Tomorrow he will take on Ferrer and almost certainly extend his 11-0 career record against a player who will have had a mere 14 hours to recuperate from his demoralising collapse against Berdych.
The second semi-final between Berdych and Tsonga looks a much more interesting prospect and with both showing a greater propensity than usual to get to net this week, it should be an all-court attacking free-for-all.
It’s been a poor tournament but it’s not too late to save it given that nobody ever remembers the round robin phase.
So don’t give up just yet. We’ve come this far, in our own way beaten down and battered to the same extent as the players we’ve watched this week.
Roger, David, Tomas and Jo. You have three matches. Don’t let us down.