08:10 AM GMT May 21, 2018
Just two months ago, Alexander Zverev was 36th in the ATP Race To London. Following an 8-4 start to 2018, failing to reach a final in his first four events, the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals qualifier was not even the top-ranked German in the Race (Peter Gojowczyk, 28th).
But Zverev, who reached three out of the next four ATP World Tour Masters 1000 finals, including Sunday’s championship match at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, has soared into the Race lead with 3,135 points. Last year, the final qualifier for the year-end championship was Jack Sock, who finished the Race with 2,765 points.
So the Monte-Carlo resident has put himself in a strong position to make a return trip to London, even though he was unable to retain his title at the Foro Italico, falling in a tight three-setter against Rafael Nadal. But he is not the only one in a good spot to return to the British capital for the season finale, to be held from 11-18 November.
Players' positions in the Race this time of the season have proven to be a strong predictor for how the rest of the push to The O2 goes. Over the past five years, players inside the Top 8 of the Race after the fifth Masters 1000 event of the season have booked their spot at The O2 in London 93 per cent (37/40) of the time.
With the exception of three players who qualified for the season finale, but withdrew due to injury, only three Top 8 occupants post-Rome have failed to make the Nitto ATP Finals in the past five Races: 7th Novak Djokovic (2017), 8th David Goffin (2016, alternate) and 8th Grigor Dimitrov (2014). While Djokovic fell off due to injury last year, not playing after Wimbledon, Goffin and Dimitrov both finished their respective Races in 11th place.
Season Finale Appearances For Current Race's Top 8
|Player||ATP Race To London Points||Season Finale Appearances|
|1st Alexander Zverev||3,135||1|
|2nd Roger Federer||3,110||15|
|3rd Rafael Nadal||3,040||8|
|4th Juan Martin del Potro||2,300||4|
|5th Marin Cilic||2,010||3|
|6th Dominic Thiem||1,625||2|
|7th Kevin Anderson||1,440||0|
|8th Hyeon Chung||1,380||0|
In the past five years, all players positioned first to sixth at this stage of the season qualified for the November showdown. That means that in addition to Race-leader Zverev, Roger Federer (3,110 points), Rafael Nadal (3,040 points), Juan Martin del Potro (2,300 points), Marin Cilic (2,010 points) and Dominic Thiem (1,625 points) — second through sixth place in the Race — are in prime position. That should be no surprise, as the quintet has combined for 32 appearances at the season-ending championships.
Nadal has made up major ground — shocking nobody — during the clay-court season, claiming 2,680 points in the past month with 11th titles in Monte-Carlo and Barcelona as well as his eighth triumph in Rome. That is more than a resurgent Del Potro has earned in all of 2018. But nonetheless, the Argentine put himself in the thick of the Race with his maiden Masters 1000 victory in Indian Wells as he seeks qualification for the first time since 2013, and his fifth appearance overall.
Cilic helped his cause by advancing to his first clay-court semi-final at the Masters 1000 level in Rome, where he fell in a battle against Zverev. Thiem has also made good progress toward a third consecutive trip to the Greenwich peninsula by accruing 1,220 points so far this year.
Meanwhile, two players who have not competed at the season finale are currently inside the cut. Seventh-placed Kevin Anderson (1,440 points) has been a model of consistency this year, sitting tied for fifth on the ATP World Tour with 20 wins (20-8), having reached at least the quarter-finals at three of the four Masters 1000 events he has played (Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid). Hyeon Chung, the inaugural Next Gen ATP Finals champion, has used his Australian Open semi-final showing as well as quarter-final appearances in Indian Wells and Miami to catapult himself into the Race’s eighth spot, holding 1,380 points.
But Anderson and Chung, as well as the rest of the field, have two capable rivals to keep an eye on, including reigning season finale winner Grigor Dimitrov, who occupies the 10th spot (1,275 points), and four-time Nitto ATP Finals champion Novak Djokovic, who shot up 50 spots to 25th in the Race (695 points) with his first semi-final of the year in Rome.
Just 425 points separates 8th-placed Chung and 17th-placed Belgian David Goffin, a surprise finalist last year in London. Within that spread, three-time O2 participant Monte-Carlo finalist and Rome quarter-finalist Kei Nishikori has moved into qualifying contention despite winning just four tour-level matches in the first three months of the season during his comeback from injury.
So while recent history is on the Top 8’s side, you can be sure the likes of Nishikori, Dimitrov and Djokovic will be looking to break that pattern in the lead-up to London.