The ATP World Tour Finals is the last major tournament of the calendar year in Tennis and in the modern era, it has seen Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic dominate but the title has eluded Rafael Nadal.
The ATP World Tour Finals has been a constant feature in the ATP Calendar ever since the beginning of the Open Era in 1968. From the first tournament in 1970 to the current one in 2021, it is celebrating 51 years of giving champions to the sport. Initially being called the Masters Grand Prix, it became the ATP World Tour Championships in the 1990s. It then changed to Tennis Masters Cup, ATP World Tour Finals, and then the ATP Finals.
The tournament has seen several great champions win the title and cement their reputation as one of the best. Illie Nastase won four championships. Ivan Lendl won five titles, including three consecutive from 1985 to 1987. Pete Sampras dominated in the 90s, winning five titles. Legends like Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Andre Agassi, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg all won this prestigious event. But, in the 21st century, the likes of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal dominating the Tennis circuit.
Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have won 20 Grand Slam titles each. The Swiss Maestro dominated Wimbledon, while Nadal was at his best at the French Open. Djokovic was the complete player, in fact having a better head-to-head record against both Nadal and Federer. Recently, the Serb came close to achieving the golden Grand Slam but he fell short. However, the records of all three players in the ATP Finals have been mixed. While Djokovic and Federer have dominated, Nadal has actually struggled.
Federer’s dominance in the season-ending tournament started the year he won Wimbledon in 2003. The format of the tournament was such that the top eight players would qualify for the main event. They would be slotted in groups and play a round-robin format. Since Federer had won Wimbledon, he qualified directly for the tournament. The event was held in Houston.
Federer was in a group that included David Nalbandian, Andre Agassi, and Juan Carlos Ferrero. The Swiss was stretched to three sets by Agassi in one encounter as he won all his matches to get to the semi-final. In the last four, Federer overcame Andy Roddick in straight sets. Federer once again faced Agassi and he won in three straight sets for his first ATP Tour title.
The dominance continued in 2004 as he won the title in grand style. He defeated Carlos Moya, Lleyton Hewitt, and Gaston Gaudio to top the group. In the semis, he defeated Marat Safin and won his second title by beating Hewitt in straight sets. In 2005, he attempted a hat-trick of titles as the event moved to Shanghai. Federer reached the final and was up by two sets against Nalbandian. But, the Argentinian bounced back to win the title in grand style.
Federer got back to winning ways in 2006 and 2007, winning the titles by beating James Blake and David Ferrer. In the 2006 and 2007 semis, he defeated Rafael Nadal in straight sets. In 2009, Federer completed a hat-trick of victories over Nadal as he beat him in the final in three tough sets. Federer then became the first man to win the ATP title six times by beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2010 final.
When Federer and Nadal were dominating the circuit, Djokovic was just an upcoming star on the path to greatness. However, as the new decade came, Djokovic started dominating the circuit. He left behind Federer and Nadal for the sheer magnitude of his achievements. Such was his prowess that in the space of 8-9 years, he managed to draw level with Federer and Nadal.
Djokovic’s first ATP title came in 2008 when he defeated Nikolay Davydenko in straight sets. But, from 2012 to 2015, Djokovic was the ultimate star in the ATP Final. During 2012 final, he defeated Federer in straight sets. In 2013, Djokovic achieved the ultimate feat as he defeated Federer and Nadal in the semi-final and final respectively. Djokovic secured the hat-trick when Federer withdrew from the final due to a back injury. The unprecedented was achieved in 2015 when Djokovic won the ATP title for the fourth consecutive time.
He repeated the feat of 2015 by beating Nadal and Federer in the semi-finals and final. Djokovic was on course to equal Federer’s record of ATP titles. However, in the last couple of seasons, he has been denied twice. In the 2016 tournament, he lost to Andy Murray in the final. Djokovic tasted further heartbreak in 2018 when he lost in straight sets to Alexander Zverev.
In the list of the Fab 3, Nadal has surprisingly been the laggard. He may have won all the Grand Slams and the Olympic gold. But, Nadal has never won the ATP Finals title. This is perhaps the only thing that is missing from his illustrious CV.
His career in the ATP Finals has been mixed, losing in the finals and the semi-finals either to Novak Djokovic or Roger Federer. In the very beginning, injuries had taken a toll on Nadal. He missed the 2005 edition due to a foot injury. In 2006 and 2007, Nadal had to face elimination in the semi-finals at the hands of Federer.
After not qualifying for the 2008 edition, Nadal exited in the first round in 2009 as he lost to Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko.
Nadal came close to breaking the jinx in 2010 but he lost in three tough sets to Federer in the final. Nadal faced the ultimate humiliation again in 2011 as he lost in the round-robin stage, which included a 6-0 loss to Federer in the second set. In 2013, after years of trying, Nadal finally managed to beat Federer in the semi-final but he lost to Novak Djokovic in the final.
After not playing in 2014, Nadal entered the semi-final in 2015 where he lost to Djokovic again. After not playing in 2016, Nadal withdrew in the round-robin stage of the tournament due to a knee injury. The sequence continued. He withdrew in 2017 due to an injury and missed 2018. But, in 2019, he and Djokovic lost in the round-robin stage. Nadal entered the semi-final in 2020 where he lost to Daniil Medvedev. His quest to win the ATP finals is running out, with age and injuries not helping.