Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal will stage the last chapter of their battle to finish the year as world number one when the ATP Tour Finals get under way in London on Sunday.
Federer goes into the Tour Finals at the O2 Arena top of the rankings, but the Wimbledon champion knows second-placed Nadal can still snatch top spot if he wins the prestigious end-of-year event.
The race for pole position is the latest installment of an enthralling rivalry between two of the sport’s all-time greats. Although Federer and Nadal remain friendly off the court, the Swiss relishes his position as tennis’s pre-eminent force and has no intention of surrendering it over the next week.
“I am aware of it (the race to finish world number one) and I would be lying if I said I was just here to play well,” said Federer, who kicks off his Group A campaign against Spain’s Fernando Verdasco on Sunday.
“Definitely I am here to win the tournament and to try to stay number one in the world. It is obvious.
“I think it is fun that it is on the line for the last tournament of the season. I will try my best and see where it takes me.”
But Nadal, the four-time French Open champion, has endured the most traumatic year of his career, with his parents’ separation proving a distraction before injury denied him the chance to defend his Wimbledon title.
Now fully fit again, Nadal claims he is relieved to be able to test himself against the world’s best again.
“I feel perfect in all aspects, mentally and physically,” he said. “I will play against the best players in the world so I can lose every match but I can win every game as well.
“For me the main thing is to be here and enjoy this experience. The rest, finishing number one doesn’t matter. My only goal is to try to play my best tennis here in London. “If I am competitive then I am more than happy. To be number one I have to win the tournament. I can’t lose any matches so for me it is not a real chance.”
Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro, who beat the Swiss in the US Open final, are also in Federer’s group. Group B has Nadal, reigning Tour Finals champion Novak Djokovic, Nikolay Davydenko and Sweden’s Robin Soderling, who was handed his place when Andy Roddick pulled out through injury.
London is staging the Finals for the first time in the event’s 40-year history. While Federer and Nadal can’t meet before the semi-finals, the sell-out crowds will see a host of other intriguing ties, with home favourite Murray’s clash against Del Potro in the opening match. Murray has been regarded as a potential champion. But while he is still to win his first major, Del Potro has done that.
Del Potro hardly eased the pressure on Murray when he admitted he expected the Scot to be a grand slam champion by now. He said, “I am a little bit surprised he hasn’t won a grand slam yet. That was maybe his goal for this year but he can do it next year. I didn’t expect to win one myself before next year or 2011.