There have been times when it might have been more appropriate for the competitors to turn up at the men's end-of-season championships with crutches rather than rackets. Usually at this stage of the year there is hardly a player who is neither exhausted nor carrying an injury or three. When the tournament went to Shanghai for the first time in 2005, only one of the top four players made it to the start line.
This year, however, the top eight players in the world rankings – the places go to those who have earned the most ranking points through the year – are all set to head for London in time for the start of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena on Sunday. Some are carrying injuries – most notably Andy Roddick, who has not played for a month since hurting his knee – but the good news for the 250,000 fans who have bought tickets is that a number of the players will be comparatively refreshed as they go into the biggest tennis tournament to be staged in Britain outside of Wimbledon.
Although Novak Djokovic has been competing throughout the year, three of the other top four players should feel the benefits of recent lay-offs, even if Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray were forced to take time off because of injuries. Roger Federer, who said he was exhausted after his summer exploits, returned recently after a six-week break, though with twin baby daughters to look after he might have found it more relaxing back on the circuit.
Murray, who will help make the draw on board the London Eye tomorrow, believes the tournament is wide open. "Novak has obviously been playing very well since the US Open," he said. "Roger for sure is going to play well in London. If Rafa is physically good, then he's one of the toughest competitors ever. All of the guys that are there are going to have a shot at winning it. That's why they're there."
Nadal is the only player for whom this will not be the final competition of the year. The world No 2, who missed the event last year because of knee trouble, admits that Spain's Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic in Barcelona next month is his major objective in the closing weeks of the season.
The tournament format in London – the players all play three matches in round-robin groups of four, the top two in each section progressing to knockout semi-finals – puts an emphasis on fitness as well as form. As well as prestige, there is a huge amount at stake in terms of both prize-money and ranking points. A player who wins all three round-robin matches and the semi-final and final would take home $1.63m (nearly £1m) and 1,500 ranking points (compared with 1,000 points for a Masters Series title and 2,000 for a Grand Slam event). There is $120,000 (£72,000) on offer just for taking part and the same for each round-robin win.