- Ravi Ubha, Tennis
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Novak Djokovic is running on empty, Rafael Nadal hasn't played in more than a month and the pressure always increases on Andy Murray when he competes in England. So, naturally, things look rosy for a surging Roger Federer at the ATP's World Tour Finals.
Or do they?
Here's a breakdown of the two groups beginning with Group B, which kick-starts action Sunday in the elite eight-man tournament. And rejoice, fans: We're guaranteed at least one Nadal-Federer blockbuster in London.
Record versus group: 30-11
Djokovic took it easy last year at the World Tour Finals. With the Davis Cup final on the horizon, he wasn't fully focused.
Don't expect Nadal to follow suit. For one, he's had ample time to recuperate. And unlike Djokovic, he's never bagged the year-end championship, so motivation won't be lacking.
Nadal has talked about not winning enough of the important points this season, but here's his chance to right the ship and end the campaign with an impressive London and Davis Cup double.
That would set the Spaniard up nicely for 2012.
Record versus group: 20-21
Federer, the defending champion, enters as the tour's hottest player, having won back-to-back titles in Basel and Paris. Sitting out Shanghai, in hindsight, was the right move.
But the worry is this: Circumstances favored Federer in Paris. He faced a banged-up Richard Gasquet, while Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga had to be tired after marathon encounters. Was that Fed's fault? No. Yet did it play a role in the outcome? Of course.
Nadal, unlike in the 2010 final, figures to be fresh when he meets Federer this week. Further, Federer's record against top-10 foes in 2011 is a poor 5-9.
Record versus group: 6-12
The grander the stage, the better Tsonga fares. In his first and only other appearance at the year-end championships in 2008, the Frenchman topped Djokovic and was unlucky against Juan Martin del Potro and Nikolay Davydenko.
Tsonga's encounter with Federer on Sunday will start the proceedings -- their second tussle in as many Sunday afternoons and seventh overall since January -- might be the most pivotal in Group B. Tsonga will be sharper than he was in Paris.
Tsonga edged Nadal in London in June, which is sure to give him confidence. However, even Tsonga will know that Nadal was fatigued following Roland Garros. Remove that match and Nadal has won eight straight sets.
Record versus group: 2-14
The lone tournament debutant, Mardy Fish should enjoy the week. He's earned it. Fish's inclusion means an American has qualified for the year-end championships for 25 straight years.
Fish still isn't 100 percent after retiring from the Paris Masters with a hamstring injury, and he needs to be in order to be a threat. Then again, even if he were fit, you wonder if Fish really believes he belongs in such rarefied company.
Fish has beaten Nadal and Federer, yes, but both times it was on home soil.
Group B prediction: Nadal first; Tsonga second.
Record versus group: 19-9
As dominant as Djokovic has been this season, not even the Serb can win such a deep tournament ailing and undercooked. Days off between matches only help so much.
Playing opponents who prefer quick points would have been ideal, but instead of getting Federer and Tsonga, Djokovic was paired alongside grinders Murray and David Ferrer. He'll have to work hard, likely harder than his body will allow given the year he's had.
Djokovic is a smart guy. He realizes that mid-January is much more important than this November. Hey, better to exit in the group stage than to lose to Nadal in the semis. Djokovic wouldn't want to give Nadal a serious confidence boost.
Record versus group: 10-12
Murray sizzled during the Asian swing, a victor in Thailand, Japan and China. He pummeled Nadal in Tokyo, surrendering a mere four points in the final set. Murray's winning streak reached 17 matches until he was undone by Berdych in Paris.
All good, right?
Not necessarily. Murray, then, will be expected to flourish, and if he doesn't win it all, his critics will continue to say he can't produce his best stuff when it matters most.
A flying start, however, is virtually guaranteed. Murray tangles with Ferrer, and he's 5-0 on hard courts against the Spaniard, taking 11 of 12 sets.
Record versus group: 12-13
Nadal's recent hiatus means he won't ease up in London. No matter how hard he's pushed, you'd expect the world No. 2 to have more than enough in the tank for the Argentines in Seville in two weeks.
It's unlikely that compatriot Ferrer is feeling as fresh. He's had a busy schedule since the U.S. Open.
The Argentines know they'll have to beat Ferrer in both singles matches to have a realistic shot of engineering the upset -- and Ferrer is aware of it, too. Maybe he'll hold back slightly this week, especially if he does lose to Murray in his opener.
Record versus group: 6-13
How exactly did Berdych qualify for the year-enders? He finished in the top 10 despite losing early at the French Open and Wimbledon, where he was defending a semifinal and final, respectively.
Conversely, Berdych didn't advance to a Grand Slam semifinal or Masters final, which was disappointing.
He heated up heading into London, though. Besides upending Murray in France, the tall, effortlessly powerful Berdych won his first title of the year in Beijing, navigating past a tough field. It's time that he snaps a four-match losing streak against Ferrer.
After Petra Kvitova's crown at the women's year-end championships, can Berdych make it two in a row for the Czechs?
Group A prediction: Murray first; Berdych second.
Final: Nadal def. Murray
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
Can Rafael Nadal end the season in style? Can Novak Djokovic snap out of his funk? We'll find out at the World Tour Finals.