Paris represents last chance to earn a berth at Masters Cup

The top half of the Masters Cup men's field is set, but a handful of players -- including Juan Martin Del Potro, Gilles Simon and David Ferrer -- are battling for the final two spots.

Originally Published: October 27, 2008
By Ravi Ubha | Special to

The field at next week's Sony Ericsson Championships in Doha, Qatar is now complete: Venus Williams and Vera Zvonareva sealed the final two spots at the women's season-ending showpiece.

Heading into this week's Paris Masters, which ends the men's regular season, three spots are still up for grabs at the men's season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai. Only a minor miracle would prevent Andy Roddick from qualifying, with Juan Martin Del Potro, Gilles Simon and David Ferrer realistically chasing the other two slots in Shanghai.

Here's how the contenders stack up:

Masters Cup
1. Rafael Nadal

Christmas is two months away, but the season of giving is coming early for Nadal. A recipient of the Prince of Asturias award, he offered to share the accolade with Roger Federer.

"It's clear that Federer deserves this award at least as much as I do," Nadal said last week. "Sharing it with him would have been an honor."

2. Roger Federer

Federer collected some hardware of his own, making it three straight titles at his hometown event in Basel, Switzerland. Following a blip against American Bobby Reynolds, Federer crushed the rest of his foes, including nemesis David Nalbandian in Sunday's final. "All the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place," Federer said. "I'd give myself 10 out of 10."
3. Novak Djokovic

Unless he goes deep in Paris, Djokovic limps into Shanghai for the second straight year. He lost in the third round at the Madrid Masters this month and has a potentially tricky opener in the French capital against unpredictable Russian Dmitry Tursunov. A reminder: Djokovic failed to win any of his last five matches in 2007.
4. Andy Murray

There's no stopping Murray. Fresh off his title in Madrid, the Scot blitzed the field to defend his title at Russia's St. Petersburg Open. He surrendered a combined five games in the semifinals and final.

How did he celebrate? By going to McDonald's with his entourage.

"I don't feel unbeatable, but I do feel very motivated and confident going into my matches," he said.
5. Nikolay Davydenko

The good news for the slumping Davydenko is that he wasn't actually beaten in St. Petersburg. The bad news is that he was forced to withdraw from his second-round clash due to a wrist injury. In the Paris draw, Davydenko hasn't reached a hard-court semifinal since capturing the Sony Ericsson Open in April.
6. Andy Roddick

Roddick got a taste of his own medicine in Lyon, France, dropping a 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) shootout to eventual champion Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals. The Swede lost five points behind first serve, saved his lone break point and added 20 aces. "This was a good preparation for [Paris]," Roddick said.
7. Juan Martin Del Potro

Del Potro lost the battle of the Argentineans in Basel; he was ousted in straight sets by Nalbandian in the semifinals a week after topping his older compatriot in Madrid. They're scheduled to meet again early in Paris. Del Potro is in the pole position to land a spot in Shanghai.
8. Gilles Simon

A finalist in Madrid, Simon maintained the momentum by advancing to the semifinals in Lyon, where he was undone by Soderling in three sets. He'd gone 7-0 in his previous seven three-set tussles, rallying from a set down five times. If he equals Ferrer's showing in Paris, it's probably good enough to get him to Shanghai.

"Now it's the sprint final in Paris," Simon said.

9. David Ferrer

Going on recent form, Ferrer has little chance of prospering in Paris: The Spanish No. 2 is 4-6 in his past 10 ATP outings. Not qualifying for the Masters Cup would at least allow him to properly prepare for next month's Davis Cup final in Argentina.
10. James Blake

Blake must reach the semifinals in Paris to have any chance of qualifying for Shanghai, where he was a finalist just two years ago. It doesn't look good, though, since he hasn't found himself in a Masters semi all campaign.

"I won't lose any sleep if I don't make it," he said. "Just being in contention shows that I have had a good year, even just in terms of my health, which is saying something given our schedule."

Sony Ericsson Championships
1. Jelena Jankovic

Upon winning the Kremlin Cup in mid-October, Jankovic treated herself to a haircut. Wonder what she did after officially nailing down the year-end No. 1 ranking last week. Who would have predicted the ascent after the Serb lost 10 straight matches in 2006?

"I worked really hard this year, and to finish No. 1 is where I want to be, and where I hope to stay," she said.

2. Dinara Safina

Safina promised to reveal whether she achieved her goals this season when the year-end championships conclude. (You're all holding your breath, no doubt.) Safe to say she did, given that in January even the 22-year-old couldn't have envisioned reaching a Grand Slam final and rising to second in the world.
3. Serena Williams

Surfing in Hawaii with rap star Common a week-and-a-half ago, Williams more recently filmed an episode for "MADtv."

"I'm really excited about that," she told her Web site. "We have cool behind-the-scenes shots and film from that, so stay tuned."

Williams was of course looking forward to that big event just around the corner. "I am getting ready for Halloween! I love to dress up for that," she gushed.

4. Elena Dementieva

Doesn't Dementieva have better things to do this time of year than battle for 2½ hours in the final of a smallish tournament in Luxembourg? The Russian toiled against fast-rising Danish teen Caroline Wozniacki on Sunday, persevering to win her third title in 2008.
5. Ana Ivanovic

Finally. Ivanovic reached her first final since winning the French Open in early June and took advantage of it, demolishing Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 in 50 minutes in Linz, Austria.

"The score might make the match look like it was easier than it was, though almost every point in the first set could've gone either way," Ivanovic said.

How gracious.

6. Vera Zvonareva

Zvonareva shouldn't be overly down after Sunday's rout. She won two titles and made it to five other finals during the regular season. "It was my goal to qualify for the [year-end championships] and finish the year in the top 10, and I've done everything I could to do both," she said.
7. Svetlana Kuznetsova

Kuznetsova might be spending more time in England in the future, since her new coach, former Grand Slam finalist Olga Morozova, used to work for the LTA and, according to the Times, is still based in Britain. Maybe she can lend a hand to the U.K.'s beleaguered governing body.
8. Venus Williams

Williams will compete at the year-end extravaganza for the first time since 2002, when she appeared in three Grand Slam finals. "This year has been a very positive year, and I look forward to continued success in Doha," said the reigning Wimbledon champ.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for