Nine takeaways from the Tour Finals
Roger Federer has made a habit of bagging year-end championships. When he battled past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Sunday for the World Tour Finals title, it marked his men's record sixth crown, surpassing Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl.
Federer ended the season with a 17-match winning streak, which bodes well for the Swiss as he attempts to snap his Grand Slam funk in 2012.
Here are nine takeaways from the nine players who featured at the World Tour Finals:
Don't read much into Djokovic's result -- going 1-2 and being eliminated prior to the semifinals. He was tired and beat up.
It won't affect the world No. 1's confidence heading into 2012.
"I think I have more than enough time to get my old strength back and prepare well," Djokovic, who finished the campaign with a 70-6 record, told reporters. "So I'm sure that if I have as good of a preparation as I had last year, I'm confident I can do well in Australia."
There's more reason to be concerned about Nadal, and not only because he was crushed by Federer and then outlasted by Tsonga: Nadal conceded that he lost motivation after the U.S. Open.
Was it a minor blip, to be expected during the course of a long career, or will this become an ongoing issue and perhaps lead to early retirement?
"My [dream] is there," Nadal said. "My motivation, I hope the same."
Lendl, however, was "not at all" worried. "I think he will be ready and motivated next week [for the Davis Cup final]. The indoor season is not his favorite."
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The catalyst for Federer in the fall was skipping Asia. It gave him time to rest and prepare for the indoor swing.
He re-emerged as a player with virtually no flaws, striking the backhand well, looking commanding on the forehand and generally serving with sting. Movement is a part of his game that continues to be underappreciated.
He was confident, too, not doubting himself, as he said he did in some matches earlier this season.
The conclusion of an 11-month season means players are hurting -- Murray included.
His loss to David Ferrer, though, even if he was suffering from a groin strain, and subsequent withdrawal meant Murray's sizzling Asian swing didn't count for much. Instead of a grand finale at home, he relinquished his No. 3 ranking to Federer.
"I never want to pull out of tournaments, especially one of this size," Murray said. "But it's a decision I kind of had to make because I was probably going to do myself more damage."
Let the Murray Grand Slam watch, 2012 version, begin.
The tournament wrapped up on a sour note for Ferrer, which is a pity. After beating Djokovic and Murray (he was a combined 1-10 on hard courts versus the two), Ferrer surprisingly capitulated against Tomas Berdych.
That meant drawing Federer in the semis, and that was one record (0-11 overall) he was unable to overturn. As Ferrer said last week, he needs his serve to be working, and it tailed off in both defeats.
But he was still the top Spaniard, which isn't usually the case.
Did many think Tsonga would reach the final? Probably not. It was an encouraging result for the Frenchman, and may his good health continue.
But his game needs fine tuning if he wants to take the next step and win a Grand Slam. Given his on-court charm, plenty are rooting for him.
Tsonga's reading of the game could improve. He hasn't completely figured out when to attack and when to let his opponent miss, for instance.
And as much as hitting the one-handed backhand amuses, it more often than not doesn't do the job.
We have a new Berdych.
The way he grinded, no one can now say that he's a soft touch. Berdych pumped his fist, looked annoyed when things weren't going his way and was ticked when he lost. Call it an improvement from even his 2010 breakthrough. Gone is the Berdych who was happy to play a top player tough even if he came up short. "Hopefully it's going to be a nice goal, to looking forward to come here next year again," the Czech said.
Fish went 0-3, but it doesn't tell the entire story. He competed well, and with a hamstring that wasn't 100 percent, taking Federer and Nadal to three sets. Hey, Nadal remains the world No. 2, despite the troublesome spell.
Now Fish, 30 on Dec. 9, needs to back it up and prove reaching the year-end championship wasn't a one-shot deal.
"I'll certainly spend the next five weeks or so working on some of my weaknesses and hope that when I turn 30, it doesn't mean that I'll go backwards," he said.
As far as alternates go, Tipsarevic was a revelation. His display confirmed how much progress he's made -- mentally -- in the last 12 months.
Far from being nervy and overawed, Tipsarevic stuck to his game. A shot-maker who likes to take the ball early and go for lines, he's one of tennis' most watchable players.
"I got a chance to play and I didn't really want to disappoint myself and all the people around me and finish this brilliant year in a bad way," he said. He didn't.
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com. You can follow him on Twitter.
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