by Bob Stockton
The year-end Nitto ATP World Tour Finals is the missing link on the career resume of Rafael Nadal. It is the biggest tournament in tennis that the Spaniard has not won, going 0-8 in the eight times he has qualified and been healthy enough to play in the elite eight-player year-end event.
Nadal – whose favourite surface is clay – has challenged the leaders of the ATP through the years to make the event – at least in some years – be played on clay (his favourite surface). He has said in the past, “A good player has a chance to qualify for the Tour Finals four or five times in his career. If during this four years you have a different surface every year, a minimum one time he will have the chance to play on his favourite surface”.
However, there are clear drawbacks to moving the event to clay. Players would have to immediately acclimatise to clay after months of playing on a hard court and there are challenges with the climate, but it would probably be fairer for everybody. However, if the event moved to South America, for example, there could be a chance for the event to be played on clay with it being warmer in the Southern Hemisphere during this time in the calendar and there could be a clay-court circuit leading into the finals, like there is a clay-court circuit there after the Australian Open a few months later.
Federer – an indoor, hard-court specialist – went the other way, stating that there should be more of an indoor season and that having a big event on a faster indoor surface is important for the balance of the sports.
“I just feel indoors doesn’t have enough play,” he said. “The indoor season is small. I believe indoors deserves a huge event, which this one is.”
Interestingly, the only time the year-end championships were not played on an indoor court came in 1974 when Guillermo Vilas won the title in Melbourne, Australia on grass courts at Kooyong Tennis Club.