Before getting down and dirty into the SF I really want to write about, I should do some justice by discussing the other one, at least a little, so here goes. In the Day Session Group A #1 Novak Djokovic who is also the current World #1 faced off against Group B #2 and World #7 Juan Martin Del Potro. Delpo was fresh off of handing Federer his first defeat at the World Tour Finals since 2009. He was firing on all cylinders and clearly showed his might in the opening set. His booming serves and thundering forehands rocked the blue arena and it seemed only a matter of time before Novak was broken. The Argentine took the first set 6-4. However, at this moment in tennis, it seems no one is better at making a comeback than Novak. Though he was a break down in the beginning of the second set, he changed tactics and stopped hitting to Delpo’s forehand. Novak broke right back to level at 2-2 and then broke Delpo again to lead 5-3 and ultimately win the set. In the third set, Novak played flawless tennis while Delpo looked sluggish and gassed. In the end, Djokovic simply outlasted him in every department to win the match in 2 hours 12 minutes, 4-6, 6-3 6-2. Novak hit 9 aces (to Delpo’s 5), won 82% of his first serve points and 54% of the total points in the match.
Now onto the 2nd SF featuring Group B winner and World # 2 Roger Federer facing Group B runner-up, World # 3, Britain’s own, Andy Murray. Murray is one of the few players who can boast of a positive H2H against Federer at 10-8. After Roger’s epic 17th Grand Slam win at Wimbledon, (and a win in Dubai over Andy earlier this year), Murray had turned the tables with defeating Roger at the Olympics final and more recently at the Shanghai SFs with two straight set match wins. This was to be their 5th meeting in 2012 and most of the pundits and commentators had picked Andy to win this fight. To be fair, Roger had not displayed the most consistent of forms and a tough win over Ferrer plus a defeat in the hands of Delpo made the most learned experts (yes Boris Becker, we’re looking at you), call this to be just the penultimate match for Andy; on his road to gaining eternal glory by being the first British man to reach the finals of the World Tour Finals… and possibly WIN. ‘Nolandy’ was earmarked as the new rivalry of the tennis universe with ‘Fedal’ getting eclipsed due to Roger getting ‘too old’ and Rafa being out injured. However, it seems they forgot to give the memo to Roger (and his fans) to step aside and let the new order take over.
Both players entered the arena to thunderous applause and one could immediately tell that the cheers for Roger were possibly, surprisingly, a bit louder for Roger than Andy, the hometown hero. Andy won the toss and elected to receive, hoping to neutralize Roger before he even got started. And he did exactly that. Murray broke Roger in his first game and then held serve to go up 2-0 in the first set. Roger struggled to hold serve next game but managed to eventually get on the board with scores at 2-1. The players continued to hold serve, neither serving particularly well, missing many first serves though Roger slowly started to push Andy. Then it was Andy’s turn to serve to go up 5-3 and that’s when Roger broke him. After a hard fought game Federer leveled the scores at 4-4 and in my opinion that was the turning point of the match. By then the Swiss had started to become more confident, making his trademark precision shots with more regularity. The shot of the day came at 6-5, 15-30, with Murray serving to go up 6-6. Roger hit a ridiculous single backhanded half volley from the baseline causing Andy to scream obscenities.
Regardless, Murray still held and forced a tie-break. Roger has the best tie break record in the history of tennis and we were about to
see why. Despite being down a mini break, it appeared that he had left the best of his shot making for the moment. He won back the mini break in a 22 shot rally and then broke Andy to go up 6-4. Thought Murray got the next point, Roger finished it off on his own serve with an inside out forehand and a fist pump, 7-6(5).
Despite the first set being competitive, by then there was no stopping the FedExpress. The tie break only served to invigorate Roger and the second set seemed like the appropriate time to unleash his entire arsenal of shots for the benefits of his fans and for the fans of tennis in general. Delighting a highly pro-Federer crowd, he crafted forehands that zipped cross court and backhands that ever so precisely went down the line. He hit drop shots, volleys, chipped and charged and kept points short and quick. For those that have been tired of seeing long drawn out rallies and like a little variety in their tennis (like me) this was a joy to watch. Roger essentially gave us all a tennis master class GOAT style.
At 1-1in the second set with Murray at 40-0, Andy lost his concentration and Roger pounced. He took the next 5 points and broke Andy to go up 2-1. He then held serve easily for the rest of the set without ever providing a break point. By this time Andy had reverted to his old sullen ways and let Roger break him again for good measure. Serving for the match at 5-2, 40-15, Roger had no hesitation and closed it out. 7-6(5), 6-2 in 1 hour and 33 minutes. The major differences in their stats were the second serve points won, second return points won, break points won (3 of 3 for Roger), as well as winning net points (13 of 15 for Roger compared to 6 of 7 for Murray).
Considering the thunderous applause that erupted as Roger let out a roar and jumped for joy, one would never think a Brit had just been defeated. As a journalist mentioned to Federer later, London seemed like Basel, in the way they screamed for him. Andy could be forgiven for feeling snubbed by his home crowd but then his behaviour and attitude in the match was not appealing or attractive. I think Andy had just one game plan, ‘Be Aggressive’. And he took that to mean bruise every ball in every game for a winner. He need not have only looked any farther than across the net to learn how to use aggression. Federer is well-known as a master tactician and he mixed offence with great defense, choosing which ball to treat gently and which one to whizz past, when to come to the net and when to hang back. He is the king of shot mixing and Andy would do well to watch the replay of the match to learn what the subtle differences were between their approaches.
That brings us to the final showdown which showcases the World # 1 and 2 for only the fourth time in the history of the tournament. Novak as I mentioned before has gotten better and better with each match. But Federer in his ruthless god mode is second to none. Question is whether he will bring that version of himself to the match or whether after that adrenaline charged SF, he will wilt like he did in the Olympics Finals. The crowd will most certainly be on Roger’s side, he’s practically London’s adopted son. Whether he has enough left in his tank to play clean tennis for just one more match remains to be seen. When asked about the final encounter Roger said
“Yeah it’s exciting, there’s no doubt about it, I love playing Novak. He’s had a great year and a great tournament. He played another good match today against Juan Martin (del Potro) who had him on the ropes, so credit to him for coming back to win. I think it’s pretty straightforward. We’ve got to press out the last juice from our bodies and make it a successful end to the year. It’s a big opportunity playing the last match of the season and facing off against Novak is always special, especially here at the Tour Finals.”
Just as yesterday, I can’t call this one, it’s too close, but as a Roger Federer fan I hope regardless of the result, he will leave it all on that court before signing off for the year. He’s given us such an amazing 2012 that it wouldn’t be fitting if he didn’t give his absolute best in the last match of the tennis calendar. No matter what happens, we will support you Maestro! Forever and Always! Allez Roger!