A show of breath-taking brilliance – the sort we have come to expect from him over the years – gave Roger Federer the revenge he was seeking for this summer’s Wimbledon heartache.
The Swiss talks about feeling privileged to have played a part in the longest ever men’s singles final a few months ago – a match lasting nearly five hours – but can that ever truly make up for being on the wrong end of the final scoreline in that five set epic?
Federer badly wanted to add to his 20 grand slam titles against Novak Djokovic in that final to end all finals, but – as with that other monumental showdown against Rafael Nadal in 2008, he was destined to miss out.
In his opening match in this year’s Nitto ATP Finals at the O2, Federer looked so far below his best that there was a familiar refrain from those watching about whether we had now finally seen the best of the great man. But you write him off at your peril.
He was simply sublime in blowing away a seemingly cowed Djokovic, winning it 6-4, 6-3 in less than an hour and a quarter – swatting the Serb aside as if he were some rookie who had got above his station but now been found out.
The precision of the placement, the immaculate nature of the serves – it was, Federer felt afterwards, as close to perfection as he could get. That is saying something for a man with so many years and matches to judge it against.
When the Swiss plays like this, you have to feel blessed to witness it. At 38, there surely cannot be many more days like this left in the tank. If only it were so.
Certainly those in the sold out arena will have felt anything but short-changed, even though they got so little playing time for their money – and the tickets for this end-of-season event are frankly eye watering.
They expected a titanic duel with only the winner able to advance to Saturday’s semi-finals and the loser facing instant elimination. Arguably, they witnessed something even better.
“I couldn’t be more happy right now,” Federer said. “I think I served great, had great anticipation, clear game plan and it worked great tonight – hopefully not for the last time against Novak.”
“There was not much that I did right this match, to be honest,” said Djokovic, whose defeat ends hopes of ending 2019 as world number one ahead of Nadal.
“Realistically, he was better player in all aspects. He served great, moved well, returned my serve very well. I was just playing too neutral. I couldn’t read his serve well. Just a pretty bad match from my side.”
As well as ending a four match losing run to the Serb, which includes that Wimbledon epic, Federer’s reward is a semi-final against either his old foe Nadal or Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Nadal must beat the Greek to have a chance of making the last four. Even then he needs Daniil Medvedev to defeat Alexander Zverev in today’s other final group match.
In yesterday’s afternoon match, Matteo Berrettini defeated semi-final bound Dominic Thiem 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 to claim a first win in the tournament. He is the first Italian to win a match at the ATP Finals.
Thiem, who beat both Federer and Nadal earlier in the week, was already assured of qualifying.