ATP World Tour Finals 2011: Classy Federer brushes Nadal aside
Roger Federer produced a stunning display to beat Rafael Nadal 6-3 6-0 and reach the semi-finals of the ATP World Tour finals
There have already been a few special moments in this year’s World Tour Finals for Roger Federer – and that’s saying something for a man in his 10th straight tour-ending climax.
Already with five year-end titles, he is hoping for a record-breaking sixth: “It’s been an extra motivation for me trying to equal [those records].”
Already he has picked up the ATP fans’ favourite award for a ninth straight time: “I can only thank them as many times as I already have.”
Already he has won the ATP Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award for the seventh time: “Very special to me because he was an idol for me growing up.”
And already he knew he would face Rafael Nadal for the 26th time but would do so in the knowledge that he had beaten his friend and rival in all three of their previous indoor matches””the last time exactly a year ago in the final of this very tournament.
But Federer had since lost all three of their 2011 matches””one of them on the hard courts of Miami. Yet he assured the press that he continued to relish the challenge of this great rivalry.
“For me it’s special to be in the same group as Rafa, it’s a first and I’m looking forward to playing him in the group stage. I always enjoy playing Rafa.”
Nadal’s words were more guarded. Coming into London after an extended break to prepare for his campaign here, he knew he may be undercooked and that Federer was on the boil. “It will be a challenge for me. Roger’s playing fantastic, winning two tournaments in a row. It will be a very difficult match.”
The two tournaments were Basel and the Paris Masters, where Federer took out two of his fellow World Tour Finalists, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Yet for lovers of tennis, the stats and the history pale into insignificance when these two meet.
What draws the fans is the nature and the quality of this particular rivalry. The huge, court-pounding game of muscle, sweat, top-spin and power generated by Nadal provides the perfect foil to the apparently effortless tactical artistry of the smooth, cool and tactical Federer.
They have learned one another’s weaknesses, reduced each other to tears and, more often than not, embraced the loser when the deed is done. Theirs is, quite simply, the most compelling tennis rivalry of the decade.
So there was a palpable buzz around the packed O2 Arena for hours before the two entered, like gladiators, to roars of anticipation. By the time the match was done, the roars erupted again””this time for one of the most complete displays of tennis many had ever seen.
It began with a gasp as Federer served the first, and last, double fault of the match. From that point on, however, he lost only five more points on serve in the set. The first ace came in the sixth game, the only service game of the match in which he conceded more than one point.
The first cut against Nadal, when it came in the next game, was swift: a break to love. It happened also to encapsulate the tactics that Federer would use to devastating effect through the entire match.
So often, in tight matches between the two, it has been Federer who ran out of patience first and went for the outright winner. Now, he kept the ball swinging deep and wide to each sideline, often slowing the pace with low-bouncing slice before flattening out a high-speed winner into an exposed corner. Nadal, frustrated by his own inability to gain any advantage and unable to break down the Federer defence, over-forced his forehand.
One break was enough: The set was won by a huge cross-court forehand winner””Federer’s ninth.
That took 32 minutes. The second set took only 28. The Federer first serve level dropped to 50 per cent but it mattered not a jot: He lost only two more points on serve.
Nadal opened serve but fell foul to another variation on Federer tactics.
In the past, Nadal has constantly broken Federer down with a wide, kick serve or forehand to the Swiss single-handed backhand. This time, the tactics were reversed. Federer has developed a dangerous wide kicking serve that might arrive at no more than 105mph but veers and skips away from the most agile of receivers.
On this occasion, he used the same stroke during rallies to break down the Nadal backhand, drawing him wider and wider until the court was exposed for a forehand winner. He also seized the advantage on the Nadal serve by stepping in to take the Nadal serve on the rise and chip it with an off backhand to the Nadal backhand.
Time and again, the rallies unfolded along these lines””Federer taking the attack to Nadal but with an accuracy and consistency that is rare with such offensive play.
So in that opening game, Nadal found himself at deuce, then break-point down, and the now faultless Federer forehand fired away for an 11th time.
Federer held serve with ease””helped along by an ace and his first backhand winner. He then broke with equal ease: A 12th forehand winner shot past a Nadal who was wrong-footed and out-manoeuvred at almost every turn.
By now, the crowd were in turn hushed at the developing scoreline and raucous in their approval.
The fourth game came and went Federer’s way with two aces and another forehand winner. Nadal saved two break points in the fifth only to see another taken with a backhand winner.
Federer had the grace to concede one point on his closing serve, but it was a crumb for Nadal from the master’s table. Federer’s fourth backhand winner, his 15th forehand winner and an ace completed the whitewash, 6-0.
It was death by a thousand cuts, or rather by twice as many points for Federer as for Nadal. And the Spaniard simply shrugged his shoulders in recognition of the better man on the day:
“Today, I accept that he played a fantastic level. A very, very top level. Something very special only one player like Roger can arrive to. So accept that and keep fighting.”
Federer, faced by a packed, hushed media room, was asked if he ever got as stunned as we did: “A little bit, I do, yes. I’m very happy. It was an exciting match to play.”
And was he aware of just how involved the crowd was in the drama?
“I felt it was a good atmosphere out there, good energy. They were really excited and ready to see this match tonight. It definitely got me fired up. I’m sure it made me play better.”
Had it taken Federer three sets to win, as it did against Nadal in the WTF final last year, he would still have confirmed his place in the semi-finals this weekend. For while he has yet to play Mardy Fish, the American’s loss, 7-6, 6-1, to Tsonga in the other Group B match of the day, the outcome will not matter.
Nadal, however, lives to fight another day: “I’m still in the tournament, I still have a chance because if I win the next match I will be in the semi-finals.”
He will have his work cut out. Tsonga is playing near the top of his form and is enjoying every minute. There is certainly a chance that he, not Nadal, could join Federer in the knockout stage.