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Many years of Drama on the ATP Finals


When Stan Smith won the ATP’s first year-end finals in December 1970, the tournament was held on the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.

The sector was unheated, prompting Japanese fans to wrap themselves in blankets, fur coats and scarves, but there was a small gas heater within the locker room, installed so the players wouldn’t have their muscles tighten up before matches.

Smith was awarded $15,000 for winning the event, but had little time to have a good time. He needed to fly to California to report for service within the Army.

Much has modified since Smith’s inaugural win, when the tournament was called the Pepsi-Cola Masters. The name of the event, the sponsorships, and the venues have modified, with the event landing in 15 cities through the years, before ending up on the Pala Alpitour in Turin, Italy, in 2021.

The eight players in contention this yr are the world No. 2, Rafael Nadal, who has never won the year-end championship; Novak Djokovic, a five-time winner; the 2019 champion Stefanos Tsitsipas; Daniil Medvedev, the 2020 winner; Casper Ruud; Felix Auger-Aliassime; Andrey Rublev; and Taylor Fritz. The world No. 1, Carlos Alcaraz, withdrew with an abdominal tear. Holger Rune, who beat Djokovic to win the Rolex Paris Masters, is the primary alternate.

The winner of the tournament, if undefeated in all five of his matches, will take home $4,740,300, the biggest individual prize ever awarded in tennis.

Despite the changes over the past 52 years, one thing has remained constant. Players, often fatigued after 11 months of travel and competition, still produce good final matches.

Listed here are five of the perfect finals.

Before he became world No. 1 and a three-time French, three-time United States and two-time Australian Open champion, Lendl, then 21, won his first Volvo Masters title with a come-from-behind victory over Gerulaitis. The season-ending match was played in mid-January 1982, since the Australian Open was held from late November through early January that yr.

Facing a match point within the third-set tiebreaker, Lendl hit three big forehands after which an overhead. However the crucial point got here earlier, with Lendl down 2-0 within the third game of the third set. Gerulaitis approached the online as he had been doing successfully throughout the match. This time Lendl drilled a forehand smack into Gerulaitis’s brow. The gang gasped and Gerulaitis stumbled and appeared shaken. Lendl held serve and Gerulaitis never fully recovered, later saying that the shot gave him “somewhat headache.”

“He was crowding the online, so I went straight at him and he couldn’t get out of the best way,” Lendl said by phone from his Florida home last month. “It was an in depth match, a giant match, the finals. But after the match we each laughed about it within the locker room.”

Becker and Lendl played for 4 hours and 42 minutes in a match that was largely even throughout. Ultimately, Becker won 28 games and 164 points, while Lendl took 27 games and 162 points.

What was most astounding was that Lendl played in any respect. The then-28-year-old had had shoulder surgery after losing to Mats Wilander in the ultimate of the U.S. Open three months earlier, and was training for a return to the Australian Open in January. But having reached the ultimate match on the Masters nine consecutive times (he won in 1981 and 1982 and in 1985-87), Lendl took a likelihood on playing and didn’t hold back.

With Becker leading 6-5 within the final-set tiebreaker, the 2 sustained a 37-stroke rally, only to have Becker hit a backhand that caught the highest of the online and dribbled over for a winner.

“The entire thing was weird,” Lendl said. “I had lost my first round-robin match to [Jakob] Hlasek, after which I beat [Andre] Agassi. Truthfully, I used to be just tickled to be back, healthy and in a position to play.”

The victory was the primary of three for Becker on the Masters, but by far probably the most grueling.

“At the top I used to be just playing and running, playing and running,” Becker told atptour.com in 2016. “I didn’t even know the rating.”

“Physically, it was one in all the toughest matches of my life.”

With 15,000 German fans rooting against him and his opponent hitting 4 straight aces to start out the match, Sampras was feeling “somewhat lonely out here.”

But after dropping the primary set to Becker, Sampras grabbed the subsequent two, quieting the group.

Sampras was two points from the match at 5-4 within the fourth set, but Becker hit a service winner, a solid volley and an ace to flee. Sampras then held two match points within the tiebreaker, but couldn’t convert. Becker finally took the set on his fifth set point when Sampras punched a volley long. The fifth set was almost as dramatic because the fourth, but Sampras ultimately won on his fifth match point when Becker ended an prolonged rally with a meager backhand into the online.

“Two heavyweights, playing great at the identical time, and it got here all the way down to the wire,” Sampras, now 51, told atptour.com late last yr. “Among the finest matches I’ve ever been an element of, a match I’ll always remember.”

Roger Federer was speculated to win, David Nalbandian wasn’t even meant to play. Federer had lost only three matches all yr (he ended the season with an 81-4 record), had won Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and entered the ultimate on a 35-match win streak.

Nalbandian got in as an alternate when quite a lot of other players, including then-No. 2 Rafael Nadal, pulled out with injuries.

“They called me on the last minute,” Nalbandian said this month in an interview. “I had jet lag, and it was very tough. But after I lost my first match, I began getting more rhythm.”

But after dropping the primary two sets, Nalbandian made probably the most of his opportunity within the finals, stymieing Federer with slice backhands and drop shots that left Federer, the world No. 1, exhausted. After winning just three games within the third and fourth sets combined, Federer roared back from 4-0 down within the fifth set. He served for the match at 6-5, 30-0 but couldn’t convert, sending the set right into a deciding tiebreaker. When Federer netted a forehand on match point, Nalbandian dropped onto his back — almost as much in disbelief as in exultation.

“After I was two sets to like down, I told myself that I may very well be two sets to like up since it was very close,” he said. “I used to be still fighting and believed I could win it. It was a tremendous match. I actually have superb memories of it.”

In 2008, the ATP Finals went from better of five sets to better of three. The perfect of those was the 2019 final between Tsitsipas and Thiem. Ultimately, Tsitsipas became the primary player from Greece to win the title and the youngest, at 21, to capture the event since Lleyton Hewitt won in 2001.

After Thiem won a 65-minute first set, Tsitsipas roared through the second and held a 3-1 lead within the third. But Thiem got here back and led 6-5 before Tsitsipas forced the tiebreaker. After Thiem rebounded from 1-4 to 4-4, Tsitsipas won the match when Thiem hit a forehand return wide.

“Holding this trophy feels amazing, just unbelievable,” Tsitsipas told the group. “I’ve never received a lot support in my life.”

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