The ATP's season-ending championships is the one big trophy missing from Rafael Nadal's trophy stable. Wimbledon.com examines whether 2013 will be the year he gets it.
If Rafael Nadal is successful at next month's Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, he will have won everything of great note in men's tennis. The only other player to have had such a 'complete' career - to have won the four Grand Slams, an Olympic gold medal, and the season-ending championships - is Andre Agassi, who, for someone who hated tennis, has a flabbergasting collection of trophies.
Whatever happens in Greenwich, this has already been the Majorcan's finest year; despite only returning to competition in February, after seven months away dealing with a knee injury that many thought would end his career, he is now back as the world No.1 after this week replacing Novak Djokovic as the alpha male.
And there could be no sweeter way to finish the year than to win the season finale for the first time. So far, London hasn't truly been part of the greatest comeback in tennis history, since Nadal lost in the first round of The Championships to Belgium's Steve Darcis, but that could all change at the most exclusive tournament on the calendar, restricted to the world's best eight players.
Some might say that Nadal's chances in south-east London would be improved if the top of The O2 was sliced off. Historically, Nadal has played his best tennis when competing in the sunshine, wind or rain; put him in an air-conditioned arena and is he still the same player, or is he somehow diminished? For Nadal's last and only title on an indoor hard-court, you have to spool all the way back to a tournament in Madrid in 2005. Still, throughout his career, Nadal has made a habit of doing exactly what his critics thought impossible (remember the time when some considered him to be 'only' a dirt-baller, incapable of winning Wimbledon?), so it's not ludicrous to imagine that he will go into the off-season chewing on another trophy.
So far in his career, Nadal has lost more matches than he has won at the season-ending championships, with a 9-10 record. Only once has he reached a final, which was when he was the runner-up to Roger Federer in 2010. He was a long way from his best when he played in 2011, and he was absent last November because of injury. Hopefully, the newly-returned world No.1 will be in good shape when he rolls into London next month.
But it will be intriguing to see whether Djokovic's straight-sets victory over Nadal in the Beijing final on Sunday, which was the Spaniard's first defeat on hard courts this year, will have an impact on proceedings. As Djokovic saw it, it was just what he needed, a result which lifted his self-belief as we head into the final weeks of the season. Djokovic, the defending champion, will be attempting to win London for the third time, while Federer will be trying to win the championships for a seventh occasion. Being the first to qualify is one thing; winning the title is another. Nadal is aware of that: "I'm going to be ready for the battle and competition."
What do you think? Can Nadal round off his year with a title in London too? Let us know in the comments below...
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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