The Hottest Storylines in Men's Tennis for the Week of October 14
"Racing" is the key word to describe this week's hottest storylines in men's tennis.
As in Race to London.
That leaves four more spots.
More importantly, Andy Murray should—but won't—hold one of those spots, so suddenly a few players have new life in their pursuit of a berth.
Richard Gasquet will try to make his way in Russia at the Kremlin Cup. Milos Raonic heads north to Stockholm, Sweden, to look for luck. Finally, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will attempt to go to the bank in Vienna, Austria, and make a good deposit for his chances.
Amid all of this chaos and excitement, one man now stands alone, looking in. His name?
Here are the highlights.
Delpo Makes 4
Juan Martin del Potro has qualified for the 2013 ATP World Tour Finals in London. With the withdrawal of world No. 4 Andy Murray from the year-end tournament, there are now four players who have locked in their berths.
Del Potro joins Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and David Ferrer in filling the first half of the available slots.
To show just how important the London tourney is, consider del Potro's words after his victory over Nadal in Shanghai that gained him access, per ATPworldtour.com:
I'm so, so happy to be back in London for the [Barclays ATP World Tour] Finals. Only eight players have the chance to be there and I'm one of them. The most important thing is the way I qualified. I've been playing really well. I'm so glad to show good tennis and I'm looking forward to closing a good year in London.
He's got news for the other seven players who will eventually join him, too. According to the Argentinian, he is playing even better now than he was in 2009, as reported by Tennis.com. For those who need a reminder, that was the year del Potro upset Roger Federer in the U.S. Open final. He then went on to reach the finals of the year-end championships.
And now he's better?
Watch out London.
Richard Gasquet at the Kremlin
Richard Gasquet may only be No. 10 in the world, and he may be two spots out of qualifying for the World Tour Finals, but he's No. 1 at the Kremlin Cup.
That's right, the Frenchman is the No. 1 seed this week.
It's the perfect starting point to make his run at the Barclays in London. Unfortunately, last week he had a better place from which to begin. He was the ninth-ranked player in the Race to London, just a bit behind the faltering Roger Federer.
Now he is still 185 points out.
The good news is that Federer is idle this week. With a strong showing in Moscow, Gasquet could really make a move into contention, setting up an exciting end to October.
The media isn't feeling that positivity, however.
With Gasquet's unexpected first-round loss to Vasek Pospisil (3-6, 4-6) in Shanghai this week, many are doubting his chances. The AFP's John Weaver (via Yahoo! Sports) was succinct in his assessment, calling Gasquet's performance a "damp squib" and declaring that his hopes for making it to London were falling.
However that may be, Gasquet is the one to watch this week in Russia.
Milos Raonic in Stockholm
Milos Raonic is riding high on his way to Stockholm, Sweden, this week. Although he is still three places out of the Barclays World Tour Finals, he knows he's getting closer.
This past week in Shanghai, he gained valuable points by getting to the round of 16. At the same time, though, he realizes that he left something even more valuable behind: the chance to defeat Stanislas Wawrinka, who is ahead of him in the Race to London.
Wawrinka beat him 7-6 (2), 6-4.
He'll probably be able to shake it off, though. After all, he was coming off of two straight finals, as reported by The Associated Press (via Canada.com).
He won the event in Thailand and lost the title match in Tokyo.
This week, Raonic will be the No. 2 seed in Sweden and has a bye to prepare for the winner of the Joachim Johansson vs. Alejandro Falla encounter.
For more tournament information and to follow Raonic as he looks to gain a London berth, here's the official If Stockholm Open website.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga Banks on a Win
As Jo-Wilfried Tsonga enters the Erste Bank Open in Vienna, he is ninth in the Race to London, only one spot out of making it to the Barclays World Tour Finals in London.
That's just good enough.
With Andy Murray unable to play the end-of-year event due to recovery from a back injury, he doesn't count in the top eight. That means that the eight players who will ultimately qualify only have to make it to the final nine.
Strange, but true.
Tsonga has a great opportunity this week to finalize his finals hopes. He has always played well at the Vienna stop on the tour, winning the title in 2011. That year he beat Juan Martin del Potro 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4. This year Tsonga is the top seed.
The highest-ranked player he could face is No. 12 Tommy Haas. Although the German holds a 2-1 advantage in their head-to-head, Tsonga won their only meeting on hard courts back in 2010.
Before that happens, he must face a local favorite in his first match.
Either German Daniel Brands or Austrian Andreas Haider-Maurer will be his opponent. The Viennese crowd will undoubtedly root for them despite Tsonga's fan appeal.
If Tsonga manages to advance, his dream of the London fans cheering for him next may come true.
Roger Federer Goes Coachless
Roger Federer is without a coach once more.
He and Paul Annacone have split after nearly four seasons together, according to the AP (via ESPN.com). The announcement was made on October 12.
For those who have criticized the progress the two have made together, Federer looked back upon their work with nothing but satisfaction. "Along with many other goals and great memories, these two main goals [winning a Grand Slam and a return to No. 1] were achieved," he posted on his website.
Clearly, many do not agree with his assessment.
Benjamin Purvis and Nancy Kercheval of Bloomberg.com link the split to Federer's failure to win Grand Slams. London's The Telegraph connects the firing with Federer trying to "stem the bleeding." John Wertheim, tennis writer for Sports Illustrated, observed in September that Annacone was "taking a beating" at tournaments.
Wertheim, however, also was quick to point out that Annacone was there for a Wimbledon win.
As for the coach himself? He remains positive about his former charge, per USA Today's Douglas Robson:
As much as Roger still loves to play, the exuberance he still shows in every practice, his desire to continue to enjoy the game, I can't imagine anything other than success coming his way. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when. Greatness doesn't stop. It doesn't just go away. He's not all of a sudden now not that good anymore.
It just might take a last-minute entry into the final eight at London to convince the critics.