Paris Masters 2011: Federer breaks new ground again
Roger Federer reached his first Paris Masters final with a 6-4 6-3 victory over Tomas Berdych
There are not many things that Roger Federer has missing from his tennis CV but the Paris Masters title is one.
Before this year, the man with 17 Masters titles from 29 finals had failed to reach the last round of only one of the big 1000 events. But in the year he turned 30″”after 13 years on the professional tour””he has at last passed that milestone, too, after an hour-and-20-minute master-class against Tomas Berdych.
The task was a formidable one. The big-built, big-hitting Czech played some of his best tennis to beat the in-form Andy Murray in the quarter-finals, reaffirming that Paris is one of Berdych’s best events. His only Masters title came here, at the age of 20, back in 2005 and he had made three quarter-final appearances.
More importantly, however, Berdych had beaten Federer in three of their last four meetings, most recently at Cincinnati this year in straight sets.
And although Federer came to Paris on the back of his fifth Basel title, his tennis against Juan Monaco in his quarter-final was decidedly below par and riddled with 35 unforced errors.
Unfortunately for Berdych, it was an entirely different Federer who turned up for their semi-final face-off. Perhaps it was the knowledge that he had come to grief against the Berdych power before, or maybe it was the incentive of that missing Paris title, but Federer gave the Czech barely a sniff of a chance from the first ball.
Berdych was broken in the opening game and came under intense pressure on his second service game, as well””a 15-minute battle that he finally won.
Although he found his rhythm and began to run off the heaviness in his legs from his difficult quarter-final, he struggled to make any inroads on his opponent.
Federer served well from the off, dropping just one point on his first serve in the set, but it was not just his serve that found an early groove.
His forehand, so wayward against Monaco, produced winners down the line and on the diagonal. His sliced backhand gripped Paris’s sticky, slow court to keep it out of reach, and he played the classic one-two””wide serve backed up by wide angled put-away””to perfection.
Serving for the set, and 40-15 up, Federer produced his first double fault but soon compensated with a big serve. The set was his, 6-4.
Thus far, the match followed the pattern of Murray’s quarter-final against the Czech and, as then, Berdych began gradually to hit with more confidence and more power, but it did not stop him succumbing to Federer’s dangerous combination of skilful defence that quickly transitions into attack.
Berdych was broken on his opening serve again. By 2-4 down, he was already into double figures on unforced errors, his game filleted by the precision and pace of a Federer with just two errors of his own.
The Czech faced yet another break point but this time withstood the pressure and held with his 10th ace of the match. In the blink of an eye, though, Federer had served, whipped a couple of cross-court winners past the rooted Berdych, and led 5-3.
The closing game was a microcosm of the match. Berdych saw one forehand pass him down the line and another, Federer’s 34th winner of the match, rocket cross-court for a 100 mph winner. The Swiss man broke the big man to love, 6-3.
It had taken him less than half the time it took Berdych to beat Murray. He dropped only three points on his first serve and produced three winners to every error. Berdych summed it up succinctly: “I would say, and I’m pretty confident to say, that that’s the old Roger.”
The old Roger’s retort? “The one who used to win 80 matches and only lose 4? I liked him.”
There was a lot to like about this Federer, too. It appears that an extended break after the US Open and Davis Cup has brought a new spring to his step, a fresh confidence in his shot-making and a glint to the eye.
He’s already won more than 50 matches for the 10th straight year. He already heads the list for the most Masters match wins, 245. He broke new territory with his last match””the much-heralded 800 career-wins””and he made his first Paris final with his latest match.
All that remains is to win his 99th ATP final and that elusive Paris Masters title will be his.