By Javier Yap – @javiervanderyap
The singles tournament will kick off with the Group B clash between world number 5, Kei Nishikori and number 6 in the world, Andy Murray. Murray leads their previous three encounters which have all been played on hard court. However, the Japanese player is a force to be reckoned with after showing his impressive form throughout the season, winning four titles and also defeating world number 1 Novak Djokovic on his route to the US Open finals. He is the first Asian to compete for the tournament and will be hoping to record his first win over the Scot in the singles match opener.
Roger Federer may have defeated Novak Djokovic in their last encounter at the Shanghai Rolex Masters in early October, however his chances of ending the year as world number 1 for a sixth time took a hit when he lost in straight sets to Canada’s Milos Raonic in the quarter-finals of the BNP Paribas Masters last week. However, Federer has the opportunity to get one back over Raonic in the other Group B opening round-robin match on Sunday.
The Swiss man’s chances were slimmed down even more after Novak Djokovic regained the Paris Masters 1000 title in his 600th tour-level match win against the man who knocked Federer out of the tournament. It was a convincing result for the Serb, who returned to the court as a proud father after his wife Jelena Ristic gave birth to their son, Stefan.
Djokovic is currently 1,310 points clear of Federer and needs to win his first three round-robin matches to finish as world number 1 for the third time in four years. The new father is also hoping to become the first player to win three consecutive ATP Finals following Ivan Lendl between 1985 and 1987. Federer cannot afford to lose any of his matches if he wants to have any chance of claiming the world number one position but also has a possible 225 points that he can gain when he and his Swiss side face France in the Davis Cup final later this month.
Novak Djokovic will begin his campaign against US Open Champion, Marin Cilic in their second day Group A match. The Croatian will make his debut in the tournament and also be aiming to record his first win against the Serb after losing in their 10 previous meetings, with the last being in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon this year.
In the other Group A round-robin opener, Australian Open champion Stanislas Wawrinka will take on big-serving Tomas Berdych. The two have yet to face each other since the semi-finals of this year’s Australian Open, where the Swiss edged out Berdych in a tight four-setter.
World number 3 Rafael Nadal is the only 2014 grand slam champion to not feature in the tournament. This is the second time in three years, as the Spaniard is recovering after undergoing surgery to remove his appendix on Monday.