When the top eight ranked men gathered in London for the last encounter of the year, the major stake was the number one position at year-end, between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.
As Roger Federer completed the parade of the dominant triumvirate, the younger generation paraded Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dominic Thiem, Alexander Zverev, Daniil Medvedev and Marco Berrettini.
When the round-robin matches kicked off, the younger generation gave notice, as Thiem defeated Federer while Zverev defeated Nadal, both in straight sets. In defeating Berrettini, Djokovic was the only one to win his first match but he lost the second to Thiem in a three-set thriller, 6/7(5); 6/3; 7/6(5). Nadal’s second match was critical for his survival in the tournament and he saved a match point at 1-5 in the third set before rallying back to defeat Medvedev in a tie breaker, 67(3); 6/3; 7/6(4). Federer also escaped an early exit with his victory over Berrettini.
In the last match of the group stage, it came down to a win or sink match between Federer and Djokovic, with unavoidable under-currents of the Wimbledon finals in which Djokovic survived two match points before claiming the title. The credit for that victory in July was his legendary return of serve.
In this indoor contest in London, however, Federer’s serving was awesome. He delivered two of his seven aces in the final game of the first set that he won after a single break of Djokovic’s serve in the second game when the Serbian committed three double faults.
In the second set, Djokovic survived a break threat before holding the first game but his opponent hammered two aces to level. Federer faced the only break threat at 30-40 in the fourth game but he survived and sealed it with his tenth ace.
From then on, it was downhill for the world number 2 as he lost his serve in the fifth game and conceded another break in the ninth game for a Federer victory. While it was a settlement for the heartbreaking loss in the Grand Slam on grass courts, it ensured that Rafael Nadal would end the year on top of the rankings.