Emotional Federer makes it five times five in Basel
Roger Federer ended a 10-month wait for an ATP title by beating Kei Nishikori of Japan in Basel
It was a day when there seemed almost too much tennis to handle.
Before the sun had risen over Europe, Ana Ivanovic had celebrated her 24th birthday with her second consecutive Tournament of Champions title in Bali.
In Moscow, the concluding day of the Fed Cup between Russia and the Czech Republic was underway and, by the afternoon, with the four singles rubbers split two apiece, the women headed into a deciding doubles.
In Valencia, all the high-ranked home players took the sidelines as wild-card Spaniard Marcel Granollers, who entered the top 30 for the first time this September, faced Argentine Juan Monaco, a former world No14 looking for his first title since 2007, in the final.
But in Basel, there was another emotional final ATP 500 between home-town boy Roger Federer and the exciting new talent and highest ever ranked Japanese player, wild card Kei Nishikori.
Emotional, because it was Federer’s first tournament as world No4 since 2003. It was his longest stretch without winning a title since 2001: His only other this year came in the first week of the season in Doha. It marked his 98th career final and his eighth final at his home event.
Most significant of all, he was attempting to win his fifth Basel title. Should he succeed, it would become the fifth tournament to yield five titles to the local hero.
The start of his campaign in Basel was slow, showing an accumulation of rust gathered over six weeks away from match play. He conceded his first ever set in 12 matches to Jarkko Nieminen and struggled through the entire tournament to get his serve into the 60s. But come the final and the machinery had begun to work its way back to its well-oiled fluidity.
Nishikori’s game is an exciting blend of speed and variety, attack and adventure. Since elbow surgery in August 2009, the 21-year-old has accelerated through the rankings from No799 in April last year to No32 now.
He reached the final in Houston this year as well as the semis in Delray Beach, Eastbourne, Kuala Lumpur and, most recently, the Shanghai Masters. In beating Tomas Berdych and an albeit below-par Djokovic in Basel, his tennis shone brightly.
However, the combination of a slow Japanese start with a Federer slipping into his best form spelled trouble for the youngster. Federer broke Nishikori’s opening game and immediately flowed into the net on his own serve to set the tone for the match.
Nishikori held his second serve but Federer continued his ruthless attack to break again. They shared some athletic and elegant exchanges with enough volleys, smashes and drop-shots to please the most demanding fan, but Federer’s length, pace and anticipation made his shots largely unreturnable.
Nishikori could find no way through and conceded the first set with a double fault, 6-1, with Federer dropping only one point on serve.
Just as he had against Djokovic, Niskikori’s slow start began to open out into sharper tennis as he found better rhythm and some lovely angles from the baseline. Despite facing a break point again on his opening serve, he held, but came under pressure again in sixth game.
Although Federer failed to convert five of his six break chances, he took advantage of a seventh with an exquisite lob to take a 4-2 lead.
Just when the match looked over, Federer serving at 5-3, Nishikori brought up his first break point but watched Federer save it with a timely ace, only his fifth of the match. The job was done was finished off a show-stopper of a smash, 6-3.
Relief, joy and, soon after, tears marked the face of the Basel man. This was title No5 in his own backyard, a feat he has also achieved at Wimbledon (indeed six), the US Open, Halle and the World Tour Finals.
Next week he has the chance to win his first in Paris, and the week after a record-breaking sixth in London. Judging from the pace of his improvement through this tournament, he could once more be peaking at just the right time of the year.
While Federer was lifting his trophy in Basel in only one hour and 14 minutes, the women in Moscow still had 45 minutes of intense doubles, with four match points, before the Czech squad of Petra Kvitova, Lucie Safarova, Lucie Hradecka and Kveta Peschke could celebrate their country’s first win of the Fed Cup since 1988″”their first as an independent nation.
It also gave Petra Kvitova her seventh title of the year, including three of the most prestigious of all: Wimbledon, the WTA championships and now the Fed Cup.
It was yet another 45 minutes before the three-hour Spanish-Argentine battle in Valencia concluded in a tie-break in Granollers’ favour. It was one of his best ever results, taking out Alexandr Dolgopolov, Gael Monfils, Marin Cilic and Juan Martin Del Potro on his way to only his third title.
With four titles decided in the space of a single day, this was a tennis-fan’s dream Sunday.
And tomorrow, the final Masters of the year begins in Paris.