Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and the Complexities of the ATP World Tour Finals

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COMMENTARY | With the fourth and final Grand Slam of 2013 fading in the rear-view mirror, the men's professional tennis year is officially winding down.

Currently, the top players in the world are all in Paris competing for a title at the last Masters 1000 event in 2013. This is the final stop before the ATP World Tour Finals in London, which includes only the top eight (non-injured) players from 2013.

Notably, these last two tournaments are played on indoor hard court -- the only time this surface appears at the highest levels of the game.

Throwing a couple indoor venues into the mix after a long grind against the elements on clay, grass, and hard court makes for quite a shift. Especially as it relates to spotlights and LED lighting.

Having been established in 1968, the Paris tournament has always been contested indoors and that fact almost certainly has to be tied to the weather at this time of year in France.

However, that same rich tradition can't be used as an excuse for the ATP World Tour Finals. An event that has been played in 15 different cities on four different surfaces over the course of its 44-year lifetime.

Although the tournament was first contested in 1970, it wasn't until 1990 that the ATP World Tour Finals we see today counted toward world ranking points. And it wasn't until 2009 that the tournament gained a sponsor (Barclays PLC) and moved to London (through 2015, at least).

It's the current configuration of the ATP World Tour Finals that drew some rather unflattering comments from Rafael Nadal in the immediate aftermath of his victory at the 2013 US Open.

Sitting in the post-match press conference with his newly awarded trophy, Nadal took a somewhat innocent question about the ATP World Tour Finals and proceeded to open his heart with some grievances regarding the year-end event.

According to ASAP Sports, Nadal was asked this two-part question near the conclusion of his last press conference in New York: "How many chances do you give yourself to become also an indoor specialist and winning the Masters Cup? Why haven't you won it yet?"

Nadal chose to buck his usual humble style and pointedly said, "Yeah, is something that is -- I feel that I am very unlucky, that all the Masters Cup that I played was in indoor hard court." Near the end of what would become a rather lengthy answer, Nadal asked rhetorically, "Why we cannot play every year on a different surface?"

Reading Nadal's complete answer, it's easy to see his frustration with the fact that qualification for the ATP World Tour Finals takes place almost exclusively outdoors, but that the actual competition between the top eight qualifiers occurs indoors and only on hard court.

It's difficult to argue with his logic in questioning that type of arrangement, especially given how much surface characteristics factor into the modern game.

If you need additional evidence of that reality, look no further than Nadal's rivalry with Roger Federer. When competing head-to-head on outdoor hard court, Nadal is 7-2 against Federer. When competing on indoor hard court, Nadal is 0-4 against Federer. A rather stark illustration of just how much court surfaces and elements can play in the outcome of a match.

Given these facts, it should come as no great surprise that Roger Federer has won a record total of six titles at the ATP World Tour Finals. A run that has included three different venues -- London, Shanghai, and Houston.

And with Nadal's complaints about the tournament, it's also probably no great surprise to hear he's never won the event -- at any location.

This may help explain why Federer has taken such a different perspective on the event, and remains one of its biggest supporters.

The Swiss player reiterated that stance recently when he told the ATP World Tour website, "[It's] the absolute pinnacle of our sport. You want to be able to showcase your talents against the best, with the biggest rivalries, in one of the coolest venues in the world in front of amazing fans."

Interestingly, the contrast between Federer and Nadal's public statements concerning the ATP Finals is almost as striking as their actual styles on court.

An appropriate metaphor given that Nadal's game was developed on the slower clay courts of Spain, while Federer's was built on the quick hard courts of Switzerland -- in a climate that likely pushed him indoors on more than a few occasions.

What we have here might simply be two hyper-competitive individuals looking to extend their rivalry to words, in place of rackets.

And who knows, maybe they'll have a chance to settle their differences this year in London?

With Rafa at the top of his game and Roger barely qualifying for the Tour Finals in 2013, they might actually be evenly matched on indoor hard court for a change.

Putting on a show reminiscent of days gone by would undoubtedly push any questions regarding the tournament's relevance out of the spotlight -- at least until the post-match press conferences.

Andrew Prochnow is a derivatives trader by day and a tennis buff by night. Tweet him @AndrewProchnow.

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