Tennis Channel Live: The race to the ATP Finals heats up

Whether he knows it or not, Novak Djokovic isn’t playing just for himself in these waning days of the tennis season. He is also competing to protect the credibility of the ATP in a year rocked by turbulence.

The Serbian star already has assured himself a berth in the eight-player ATP Finals in Turin. That’s due to the exemption that allows a Grand Slam champion in any given year to leapfrog over a player who has earned his spot the old-fashioned way: by finishing in the Top 8 in an annual, points-based race.

The problem therein is that, through no fault of Djokovic’s, honoring the exemption may not be justifiable. Wimbledon did not exist in any institutional way for the ATP and WTA this year due to the tournament’s ban of players from Russia and Belarus. In response, the player organizations stripped the game’s flagship tournament of ranking points—raising the question: If the tours blackballed Wimbledon, how can they justify welcoming its champions?

The problem is unique to the ATP. The WTA Finals are a mirror-image of the ATP product in almost all ways but the qualification procedure. The eight top-ranked players qualify, end of story. It’s clear and unequivocal, but as a result, Elena Rybakina, the Wimbledon champion, did not make the cut this year (you have to feel for her, but it’s a subject best left for another time).

“I am usually okay with the exemption for a Grand Slam champion, because if you win a Slam it’s a big deal. But this year is tricky,” Michael Russell, coach of Taylor Fritz, told me. At the moment, Fritz, ranked eighth in the Race to Turin, would be out of the event due to the exemption for No. 10-ranked Djokovic.

“I don’t want to say it’s ‘hypocritical,’” Russell added, “but if there were no points at Wimbledon (and a number of serious contenders were absent) and then you offer the winner a spot in Turin, where there are points, how do you justify that?”

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