Federer was the victor in the pairÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tenth encounter on the tour, coming from a set down to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.
The four times ATP World Tour Finals winner, who has now regained the year-end number one ranking for the fifth time in his career, remains extremely popular in London. His welcome was marginally louder than Murray and he must feel as comfortable here as the Brit who can genuinely call the city home.
In fact, Federer referred to London as the birthplace of his success on accepting the ATP World Tour Champion trophy, mentioning his junior Wimbledon title, the famous baton-passing victory over Pete Sampras on the grass in 2002 and winning his first grand slam crown at the All England Club a year later.
The match last night had a lot to live up to after last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s epic three-set encounter at the same event in Shanghai. It was also the major billing of the group stages, for British fans at least. The atmosphere surpassed anything that the ATP World Tour Finals has had to offer so far at the O2, and the opening 23-shot rally promised an enticing encounter.
Murray started nervously, dropping his opening service game, but quickly pulled himself together to break back and was dominant in the first set from then on. His down-the-line backhands were flowing and he even took to a bit of showboating with a slam-dunk smash a la Sampras.
Federer upped his level in the second set and the world number four found himself under pressure on serve. Murray managed to withstand the first onslaught from the world number one, saving two break points after a Federer fan called out as he was throwing the ball up to serve, causing him to double fault. The Brit could not repeat the feat a second time around though and Federer levelled the match.
An exciting third set seemed on the cards, with both men playing well, but Murray uncharacteristically faded in the decider. Federer reeled off six straight games to secure his second victory at the Finals. He now plays Juan Martin del Potro on Thursday, while Murray will need to beat SpainÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Fernando Verdasco to progress to the semi-finals.
Murray was self-critical in his assessment of the match. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I didn’t play well,Ã¢â‚¬Â he said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It happens sometimes. If you miss so many first serves you put yourself under pressure and I made more mistakes than normal.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He also offered a frank analysis of his form since returning to the tour following a wrist injury which kept him out of action for six weeks.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“The one thing that’s been a problem for me since I came back was I played well-ish first set of the matches. Then when the adrenaline wears off, I don’t know, there’s not quite the same spark in the legs that there was at the start of the year.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ I’ve had let downs in a lot of matches. I’ve let guys back in the match straightaway, early in the second set. And that’s something that I was doing really, really well when I was playing a lot at the beginning of the year. When I was getting ahead, I was not giving guys chances to come back into the matches.Ã¢â‚¬Â
He will need to ensure that he is focused throughout his final group-stage match against Verdasco, who is clamouring for a win at the O2 after losing two close matches against Federer and del Potro.
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