The season-ending ATP Finals will get underway on Sunday, with the worlds top players gathering in London to fight it out for the taste of glory one last time in 2018.
Though Rafael Nadal and Juan Martin del Potro were high-profile withdrawals from the event due to injury, a strong field remains on display.
The format is different to most other ATP events. It features two groups of four players, with each playing one another within their group over the first six days of the competition.
ATP Finals groups
The top two of each group after three matches will advance to Saturdays semi-finals.
On Sunday – Day 1 – Group Leyton Hewitt will be taking to court for the first of their round robin matches.
Kevin Anderson vs Dominic Thiem
Its been a remarkable couple of years for the big-serving South African – a late bloomer on the ATP Tour.
A losing finalist at the US Open in 2017 and at Wimbledon earlier this season, Anderson has made his mark on the biggest stages in recent times and has fully earned a first appearance in the season-ending finale.
The 32-year-old will make his debut against 2018 French Open runner-up Dominic Thiem, who has qualified outright for the ATP Finals for the second consecutive year – though he made his debut as world No. 9 by replacing Nadal in 2016.
World No. 8 Thiem was strictly speaking the last player to qualify outright for the tournament, but he has now been bumped up to sixth seed after the withdrawals of Nadal and Del Potro.
In the past he has struggled in this match-up, losing all six of their previous meetings prior to this season but he notched wins in Madrid and at Flushing Meadows to reduce the deficit in 2018.
Their only previous encounter on an indoor hard-court came three years ago at the Paris Masters, with Anderson winning that in a deciding set tiebreak but Thiem has made real strides on this surface this season.
The Austrian picked up a title in St Petersburg before making a dash to the semi-finals at Paris-Bercy but he now must put to bed a poor set of results in London.
Hes won just two of his six matches at the O2, beating Gael Monfils – who withdrew from the event following the defeat – and Pablo Carreno Busta – an alternate making his debut following the withdrawal of Nadal. Its hardly the most glowing CV.
That mental baggage could prove to be a factor and Anderson perhaps has the edge.
Prediction: Anderson in 3
Roger Federer vs Kei Nishikori
Both men have benefitted from the withdrawals of Nadal and Del Potro.
Federer was bumped up to a top-two seed, which meant he avoided a potential group-stage encounter with world No. 1 Novak Djokovic, while Nishikori joined John Isner in reaching the finals.
This has been a regular fixture in the ATP calendar across the last few weeks, with both being drawn against one another in the quarter-final stage in Shanghai and Paris.
Federer triumphed in both encounters and will be expected to dominate this group, particularly after one of his more impressive weeks in the past six months at the Paris Masters, which ended in a narrow semi-final defeat to Djokovic.
A hand injury had caused him problems since the grass-court season but he looked back towards his best and he will now take another shot at claiming a milestone 100th tour-level title in London.
While Australian Open champion Federers participation was never realistically in doubt, Nishikori has had to bust a gut to qualify.
At the beginning of the year, he skipped the first Grand Slam in favour of competing at Challenger level – losing his opening match in Newport Beach to then world No. 238 Dennis Novikov – as he continued his recovery from a long-term wrist problem.
From there, the Japanese No. 1 has largely gone from strength to strength, although his title drought continued with losses in Vienna, Tokyo and Monte Carlo contributing to a miserable nine consecutive tour-level finals losing streak.
Despite not adding to his 14-title haul, hes been a consistent performer across all surfaces in one of the best comeback stories of the season.
He arrives as the third-most experienced player at this event – behind Djokovic and Federer – and has reached the last-four in two of his three past appearances, notching impressive wins over Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray along the way.
However, he has lost his two previous encounters in London against the 37-year-old Swiss and the six-time champion enters this one as the heavy favourite.
Prediction: Federer in 2