It’s that time of the year again when the attention of the tennis world begins to focus on who will qualify for Nitto ATP Finals. Only this season’s best eight singles players and doubles teams will compete at the world’s biggest indoor tennis event, to be held at The O2 in London from 10-17 November.
Players earn their place at the season finale by finishing in the Top 8 of the ATP Race To London on 4 November, when the ATP Tour regular season concludes after the Rolex Paris Masters. The Race is a calendar-year points race that starts at the beginning of each ATP Tour season.
Throughout the season a player adds his best eligible results from up to 18 tournaments to his Race points tally. Winning a prestigious ATP Masters 1000 title earns the champion 1000 points. Titles at ATP 500 and 250-level tournaments return 500 points and 250 points, respectively. Players who don’t win the title still earn points based on how far they advance in the draw.
The Race differs from the ATP Rankings, the historical world rankings. A player’s ranking is determined by his best 18 tournament results over the preceding 52 weeks. A high ranking is needed to get into the world’s best tournaments and rankings also determine if a player is seeded. Novak Djokovic is known as the World No. 1 because he sits atop the Rankings. Daniil Medvedev is known as a Top 10 player because he is No. 4 in the Rankings.
More often than not, a player’s Race standing is different to his ranking. For example, Rafael Nadal is first in the Race but second in the Rankings because he has enjoyed more success in 2019 — with two Grand Slam and two ATP Masters 1000 titles — than over the longer time period of the past 52 weeks. Nadal concluded his 2018 season early due to injury, following a semi-final run at the US Open.
In the latter part of the season, a player’s focus turns to his position in the Race because it becomes an accurate predictor of what the player’s year-end ranking will be. And, of course, the Race determines who makes it to London.
Editor’s notes: Strictly speaking, the Race begins in mid November of the preceding season (the week after the Rolex Paris Masters). Results at the Nitto ATP Finals are excluded, but players competing in late-season ATP Challenger Tour events earn points that count towards the next season’s ATP Race To London.
Officially, only the Top 7 in the Race are guaranteed places at the season finale. The eighth place is reserved for a Grand Slam champion positioned between 8th and 20th in the Race. If all Grand Slam champions of the current year are positioned in the Top 8 of the Race after Paris, then the Top 8 players in the Race qualify.