ATP World Tour Finals 2011: Roger Federer seals record 6th title

Roger Federer overcame Jo Wilfried-Tsonga 6-3 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 to seal a record sixth ATP World Tour Finals title in London

roger federer
Federer beat Tsonga in two hours and 18 minutes Photo: Marianne Bevis

roger federer

It’s a year in which much has been written of age and of records, about powers reaching their peak and powers waning. It’s a year in which the top four rankings all saw new names, in which old hands made breakthroughs, and in which former top-tenners returned with a new spring in their step.

Since the final of the ATP World Tour Finals last year between the two men, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who had dominated men’s tennis for more than half a dozen years, both had slipped behind a new champion: Novak Djokovic. Federer even slipped behind a British man ready, it seemed, to convert his success of the autumn into major silverware””Andy Murray.

But come the last day of the last tournament of 2011″”the contest between the year’s best eight””the top three were gone, beaten by exhaustion, injury and the tennis of older men. No1 Djokovic, the man he knocked into second place in the rankings, Nadal, and the man who had risen to No3 with three back-to-back titles in the Asian swing, Murray, all fell by the wayside, ashen and weary.

One of the oldest participants””Mardy Fish turns 30 next week””entered the top 10 and the World Tour Finals for the first time. He took both Federer and Nadal to three sets, but had come to London with injury and bowed out at the Round Robin stage.

Serbia’s No2 player, Janko Tipsarevic, maturing to a career-high ranking of No9 at the age of 27, was parachuted into the competition for two contests: He held a match point in his final set tie-breaker against Tomas Berdych before losing in three, but then beat fellow Serb Djokovic for the first time in his career.

David Ferrer was the oldest man in his group””he too turns 30 in a few months””and finished 2011 higher than he’d been in more than three years, at No5. In the semi-finals, he lost to the man who had beaten him on all 11 previous occasions, Federer, and admitted afterwards that he was so tired he just wanted to stop””but he now has a Davis Cup final to play.

The other semi brought together Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Nos 6 and 7: close in age, in titles and in style of game. Berdych was the one to go.

It was down, then, to the two. Tsonga would face the oldest man in the event, the No4 man in the event, the unbeaten man in the event: Federer.

Much of that talk of age and of records had circulated around the Swiss defending champion. The 30-year-old had failed for the first time since 2002 to win a Grand Slam and had slipped out of the top three for the first time since 2003.

In Tsonga, one of the most charismatic players on the tour, Federer faced a man who had rediscovered both his joy of tennis and his form. The Frenchman had not just won through to the London final, he had also won over the London crowd with his attacking play and deft touch, his personality and modesty.

What’s more, he knew how to beat Federer. He famously turned around a two-set deficit at Wimbledon in the summer to take Federer out of the quarter-finals, and he went on to beat him in Montreal, too.

But these two men had met five more times in 2011″”more often even than Nadal had played Djokovic””and Federer won all five. Even more remarkable, this eighth meeting was their third in a fortnight: three straight Sundays from the Paris Masters final, through London’s first Round Robin, and on to the big one.

With two indoor titles apiece since the US Open, and both looking fit, healthy and confident, few were prepared to nominate a winner. Only one more element could lift this match any further, and that was atmosphere.

After their Round Robin meeting, Tsonga had given a resigned, smiling shrug and said: “Everybody was for Roger, but that’s okay.” By the time he walked onto Centre Court a week later, that was no longer true: “I was surprised because they support me a lot. It was really fair from the English crowd.”

Indeed the roars resonated for both in equal measure, a soaring soundtrack that enhanced the ebb and flow of the on-court drama.

And it was the popular Frenchman who appeared to take a hold of the match first, despite serving second. He dropped only one point in his first three service games while Federer dropped at least two points in each of his first four.

But Federer timed his pounce to perfection in the eighth, seizing on two second serves from Tsonga to attack the net. Three backhand winners later and Federer had broken to love. He had to stave off his opponent through two deuces on his own serve but finally took the set in little more than half an hour, 6-3.

Tsonga came into the match both as tournament leader and season leader in aces””31 and 814 respectively””and in the third game, he managed to counter two consecutive double faults and two break points with two aces. He was not so lucky in the fifth game where Federer converted a single break point with a rapier forehand drive down the line.

Tsonga almost conceded another break in the seventh, too, as Federer took a 40-30 advantage, but the Frenchman played a delightful drop shot followed by two big serves to hold. It was bold and exciting stuff and it lifted the Tsonga game. He made a statement hold with two aces to force Federer to serve for the match””and nerves gripped the Swiss arm.

Offered up three second serves, Tsonga attacked his man for three break points and levelled the match at 5-5.

Now nerves gripped Tsonga: He, too, missed several first serves but saved a break point with a huge forehand winner to ensure a nerve-jangling tie-break.

Neither man could gain an edge as they stood neck-and-neck on net attacks””23 each””and on points won””70 each. But at 6 points apiece, Tsonga cracked down a 137mph serve and followed it with a cross-court bullet to take the set.

It felt like a momentum shift””and the uproarious crowd thought so too. Indeed it felt like a Wimbledon-style upset was on the cards.

But Federer soon disabused the doubters. He opened with a love service game and went on to drop just three points on serve in the set. He sealed a 4-3 lead with an ace and finally broke through three deuces in the eighth game.

Would Federer again waver when serving for the match? The answer was quick: A love service game and a leap of joy confirmed Federer as the year-end Champion and winner of a record-breaking sixth World Tour Finals title.

With appropriate Swiss timing, his 70th title in his 100th final also made him the oldest man ever to win this event.

So the 2011 season draws a fitting line under those themes of age and of records. Federer is still making and breaking headlines and affirmed: “For me, it was the strongest finish I’ve ever had in my career.” This was his third straight title in a 16-0 unbeaten indoor season.

And he is not done yet: “I love this game more than anybody, so I’m not all of a sudden going to wake up in the morning and say I don’t like it any more. It’s a lot of sacrifice. It’s a lot of effort but what I get in return is moments like I got today, with my team, with my family. It’s priceless.”

Next year, he expects to visit London three times as the Olympics joins Wimbledon and the World Tour Finals for the 2012 schedule: “At this point, I’m extremely tired, but this is going to be a very important place to play good tennis. Clearly I don’t want to miss it and I hope to be healthy when the Olympics do come around.”

So there’s at least one more box that Federer plans to tick””and it could be just a matter of days before his 31st birthday.

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