Indeed when it comes to the Nitto ATP Finals in London, Federer has more records than you can shake a stick at. His six titles are the most, his 10 finals are the most, and 17 qualifications is also a record. It goes with the territory, then, that he has won more matches in this event than anyone else, 57.
Most players of his generation have long since hung up their rackets. For example, the first year he won the title, 2003, he was alongside Carlos Moya, Andy Roddick, David Nalbandian, and he beat Andre Agassi in the final.
The next year, 2004, there were Marat Safin and Tim Henman, and Federer beat Lleyton Hewitt in the final. Not a single man from either field has played for a while, nor anyone who qualified in 2005.
Yet here is the Swiss again, seeded third, now with 103 titles under his belt, four of them won this year, plus a scintillating final finish at Wimbledon, and a 10th victory at both Halle and Basel. And he takes his place in London with no fewer than four men who are at least 15 years his junior.
He is, too, quietly optimistic of his chances, and would love to end the season on a high, especially as he has not won since 2011, despite making three finals in that span. That Federer has the best indoor record on the tour, with 26 titles, 296 match-wins, and an 81 percent success rate, only reinforces his prospects.
But as he was quick to point out during the pre-tournament press conferences:
“Of course, it would be nice. I’m not the only guy who has that hope, that dream.”
Yes, he admitted, he likes playing indoors, but does that gives him an edge? Well he was rather less certain about that:
“I think indoors is a nostalgic thing for me as well. It was where I had my first success on the tour, where I made my first points in the ATP. It’s how I got up the rankings, it was through the indoors, and so I always feel comfortable regardless of which indoor court I go to. Feels like I’ve come home in some ways.”
His biggest problem in a group that features the man who beat him to the Indian Wells title, Dominic Thiem, plus debutant Matteo Berrettini, will surely be Novak Djokovic, the man who has been No1 for most of the last year.
It was, after all, the mighty Serb who denied Federer’s two match points at Wimbledon in July. And Djokovic has had the upper hand in most of their indoor meetings since the Swiss won the London title in 2011, whether at the ATP Finals themselves or at the Paris Masters. No wonder, then, that Federer balked at the suggestion he may have the advantage on the O2’s indoor courts.
“Why should it give me the upper hand? My indoor record? I hope so!”
Then he smiled, knowing all too well how impressive Djokovic has been indoors. Indeed according to the ATP, the Serb’s success rate in matches played is second only to Federer’s, and improving all the time.
“He’s been playing OK indoors too. It’s not like his record is non-existent or worse than mine. I don’t even know if it is worse than mine. Honestly, I’m very excited to be playing against Novak again here. Happy to be in his group.”
He smiled again: “I’ve moved on [from the Wimbledon loss] a long time ago. I think our games really match up nicely. It’s great for the crowds, we have different playing styles. It’s pretty quick here, I feel… and indoors is focused a bit more on serve and all that stuff rather than what your opponent does. It should be exciting.”
Of course, even if he loses to Djokovic in the round-robin phase, he can still reach the knock-outs, and he may hope to reverse the results of 2015, when the Swiss won their round-robin encounter but lost their final bout.
There is also the current No1 Nadal to consider, a player eager to tick off the one big missing trophy from his resume. He heads the other group, and could face either Djokovic or Federer in the semi-finals.
And all three of the veteran stars will be mindful of the fact that they have been beaten by many of the young challengers in London. Both Stefanos Tsitsipas and Dominic Thiem have beaten all three. Alexander Zverev has beaten Federer and Djokovic. Daniil Medvedev has beaten Djokovic.
Yet it would surprise few of them, or the thousands of ticket-holders who will pour into the O2, if Federer reaches a 300 indoor match-wins next week—that is, reach another final here.
He appears to be in the shape to do it, arriving on the back of the Basel title but bypassing the Paris Masters to keep enough in the tank to get him to the end of a busy year, 51-8 matches.
Yet still the Swiss does not plan to let the grass grow under his feet. First he heads to South America for a long-planned exhibition tour, then has a trip to Hangzhou, China at the end of the year, and will go to South Africa with Nadal in February for a fundraiser for his Foundation—what he has called a dream come true, since it is his mother’s homeland.
And now that Federer has also committed to the Beijing Olympics in July—surely a last-ditch attempt to win singles gold—he has streamlined other parts of his 2020 schedule, beginning with his withdrawal from the ATP’s newest venture, the team-based ATP Cup ahead of the Australian Open.
“The South American exhibition tour was already long in scheduling, something I wanted to do for a long time, and couldn’t because of my knee, because of the birth of my children, the year after, two years after, just because it was going to be too much.
“So South America had a priority for me, to be quite honest, and ATP Cup too, but then when I realised Stan [Wawrinka] was also not going to play, the family was not going to travel to Sydney, honestly I said I’d rather be at home with the family and take it easy, train some more, and make the priority the Australian Open and World Tour Finals.
“Something just had to give, and that was the ATP Cup. Normally I don’t make these kind of decisions… The family was always going to travel to Japan, but then we tried to come up with a really good schedule for the kids, and going to Sydney—we were not ready to do it.”
At 38, with four children—and the twin girls are now 10 years old—and time running out on the 20-year-road he has travelled, the Federer priorities are evolving. And the next 12 months will be a delicate balancing act between fulfilling fresh ambitions and keeping family, body and mind happy.
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