By Ros Satar
- Novak Djokovic  v Tomas Berdych  – H2H: 20-2
- Roger Federer  v Kei Nishikori  – H2H: 3-2
- Jamie Murray/John Peers must beat the Bryans to keep their qualification chances alive
LONDON, UK – With Roger Federer already qualified for the semi-finals, three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic holds centre stage with a must win match to qualify.
Tennis: Full Draws and Schedules
Novak Djokovic  v Tomas Berdych  – H2H: 20-2
There was very little real explanation for Djokovic’s loss to Federer, other than it was just one of those days. Having watched him in practice, he had seemed focus with no real issues. He had not even been really bugged with the now (in)famed Sneak Attack By Roger (SABR), but Djokovic had not really moved well enough or exploited his own weapons nearly enough.
For Federer on the other hand, he had not really come in expecting to win and was really focused on getting past Berdych and Kei Nishikori. So to qualify, and in all but one scenario at the top of the group was an added bonus, and one the tournament should be thankful for.
The speed of the court has come in for a lot of discussion. Playing slow, while the doubles has seen some incredibly exciting exchanges, the singles matches (with the exception of Berdych v Nishikori) have all gone to straight sets, with probably the best quality being in last night’s battle of the former champions.
Still, it is a very aggressive mountain that Berdych will have to climb. While he possesses the power, and overall is happy with his year under the watchful eye of Dani Vallverdu, there is just someone lacking when he faces the very top of the tree.
His only two victories over the current World No. 1 came on grass (Wimbledon 2010 on his way to his only Grand Slam final) and two and a half years ago on the clay of Rome. Since then he has been on the wrong end of a seven-match losing streak, including a 6-2 6-2 drubbing in the round-robin stages of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals last year.
Berdych’s play is just a little too ‘by the numbers’ where someone of the flexibility of Djokovic is concerned, and the Serbian would have to have another monumental off-day to give Berdych a chance to upset the apple-cart.
The Czech would need a straight sets win over Djokovic, with Federer doing the same to Nishikori to stand a chance of qualifying. If he squanders a set, then it is all over for him.
Sadly we can’t see Djokovic losing another winning streak, having surrendered his unbeaten indoor streak, and it looks like the predictions of Berdych going 0-3 will be all too real.
Roger Federer  v Kei Nishikori  – H2H: 3-2
Before all the drama unfolds with Djokovic, Federer will be kicking off the action as he looks to determine his position of qualification against Nishikori. It had been a pretty disasterous start for the Japanese No. 1 who had come up against a very dominant Djokovic and had really been closed down.
He was able to at least serve a lot more efficiently the second time around against Berdych, and apart from one loose game that allowed the Czech back into the match, he was the one who perhaps pressured more and got the results. Federer can afford to take his foot off the gas as he qualified first in the group in almost all scenarios with a third straight win over the Japanese player.
But Nishikori has got the better of the Swiss twice (Miami 2014 and Madrid 2013). But on indoor hard, Federer remains supreme and there is no reason to believe he won’t feel right at home here. He started far better than in his match against Berdych, and was able to compound whatever was ailing Djokovic, and will hope to have Murray finish second in the group to avoid facing Nadal in the semi-finals. Arguably though, on the form he showed last night, neither player would start as a favourite to stop him from reaching the final.
Expect Federer to win, but Nishikori could take a set off him, without changing the scenario status quo too much.
Jamie Murray & John Peers  v Bob and Mike Bryan 
Both teams have come up against a quite frankly fearless-looking Rohan Bopanna and Florin Mergea, who have qualified at the top of Group Ashe/Smith already. So it is all about who wins this one to qualify second. Murray and Peers have had the measure of the Bryans a couple of times with the American twins only leading their head to head by 3-2, and interestingly this will be their first hard court encounter.
The Bryans have recently been shifted down a place in the overall rankings, although as an established pairing they recaptured the No. 1 spot in the Doubles Teams rankings with their win over the Australian Open champions Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini.
Murray and Peers will want to go out on a high here, as they are dissolving their partnership at the end of the year. Murray will join Bruno Soares and Peers will play with Henri Kontinen. The Bryans have not really seemed at the top of their game since winning the Montreal Masters, which was their last title, added to some family time as Bob welcomed his third child at the end of October.
The Commonwealth pair will need to put on a real show if they want to advance and keep the flag flying on their partnership into the knockout stages.
Federer v Nishikori is not before 2pm on Thursday, with Murray/Peers v Bryans opening the night session at 6pm, and closing with Djokovic v Berdych, not before 8pm (all times GMT).
Main Image Credit: Clive Brunskill/Getty
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