Roger Federer finds his groove to keep semi-final hopes alive
ATP Tour Finals: Swiss maestro rebounds in style after error-strewn loss to Kei Nishikori
Switzerland’s Roger Federer on his way to beating Austria’s Dominic Thiem during day three of the ATP Tour Finals at the O2 Arena in London. He will face South African Kevin Anderson in his final match in the Lleyton Hewitt group on Thursday. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA
The Swiss maestro found himself with his back to the wall after an error-strewn loss to Kei Nishikori in his opening round-robin match – his first straight sets defeat in 46 group stage matches at the season-ending showpiece.
Another loss would have made it impossible for him to reach the semi-finals for the 15th time in 16 appearances at the tournament.
Yet 48 hours later, the 37-year-old Federer looked much more like his old smooth self as he rebounded in style, to the delight of the majority in the packed stadium.
Whereas he struggled for timing and was a little grumpy on Sunday against Nishikori, Federer found his groove from the start against Thiem as he hunted an early break.
Thiem saved a break point in the opening game, but at 1-1 he sent a forehand long to give Federer the advantage he never really looked like relinquishing.
Two tame volley errors by Thiem gave Federer another break for a 5-2 lead as he cruised to the opening set.
Federer turned the screw to break again immediately in the second set and never looked in any danger of a defeat which would have made it impossible for him to reach the semi-finals.
Tournament debutant Anderson leads the group with two wins after thrashing Nishikori 6-0 6-1 earlier and would have been assured of a semi-final spot had Federer been beaten by Thiem or even dropped a set.
As it stands Federer will likely have to avenge his Wimbledon loss this year by Anderson to reach the semi-finals, although all four players in the group could still mathematically progress.
Afterwards Federer said: “It feels good, I’m very happy I showed a reaction after the last match against Kei.
“No match is easy here and it’s not something I’m used to, losing and then coming back and playing again, but it’s a great challenge and I’m happy with my attitude and how I played. It was good fun.
“Today I was more positive, more happy on the court and I reminded myself what a privilege it is to play here at the O2.”
As if his fearsome display this afternoon was not enough to make Federer wary, Anderson also ended the Swiss star’s hopes of a ninth Wimbledon title earlier this year.
“I hope it’s not a match like Kevin played this afternoon,” added Federer. “It’s never easy to play against him, especially indoors. He deserved that win at Wimbledon but hopefully I’ll get my revenge.”
Earlier, Anderson underlined his credentials as the man most likely to challenge Novak Djokovic with a brutal destruction of Nishikori.
The Japanese world number nine was on cloud nine after stunning Federer in their opening round-robin match on Sunday, but he was brought crashing back down to earth by O2 Arena debutant Anderson.
Nishikori was staring down the barrel of the ultimate humiliation, and only the second 6-0 6-0 defeat in the history of the Finals, following a ruthless display by the South African.
Yet at 6-0 5-0, and with less than an hour on the clock, the 28-year-old finally managed to string four serves together to get on the scoreboard and avoid the dreaded “double bagel”.
I got off to a really good start and I think I did a really good job constantly applying the pressure and not letting up
It only delayed the inevitable, though, as Anderson duly served out for a 6-0 6-1 victory in 63 hopelessly one-sided minutes.
And with the rest of the field, Djokovic aside, looking unconvincing to say the least so far this week, Anderson is rapidly emerging as the biggest danger to the Serbian world number one’s hopes of a sixth London title.
“That’s amongst the matches best I’ve played,” said Anderson, who was beaten by Djokovic in this year’s Wimbledon final.
“I got off to a really good start and I think I did a really good job constantly applying the pressure and not letting up.
“Sometimes it’s tough if you have a very dominating set, you often see scorelines that momentum can change. Today, I kept at it the whole time.
“I was growing in confidence and he sort of probably was going a little the other way, which is tough given the situation.”
Despite the crushing defeat Nishikori will still have a chance of qualifying for the semi-finals if he beats Thiem on Thursday.
“For me, it was one of the worst days in the year,” he said. “He was playing well, serving well and returning well, too.
“He played good and it just wasn’t my day today. I need to try to forget about today. Something was wrong, I’ve got to fix it tomorrow and try to be positive for the next one.”