Monday, 28 November 2011

ATP World Tour Finals 2011 Reaction: Roger Federer def. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 6-7, 6-3

He looked the strongest going into the tournament, and Roger Federer once again proved his prowess on the blue courts of the O2 in London, eventually overcoming a threatening fightback from Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to set a new record with his 6th year ending championships title, as well as a 70th title. He has not lost a match since the US Open and inhabits the identical position he was in at the end of 2010 after winning at the O2, where many expected him to win the Australian Open. As ever tongues must be held, since coming off perhaps one of the most unpredictable seasons in recent memory; no one expected Djokovic to go on the tear that he eventually did - but look where we are now. It certainly portends well for Federer, who (as we are incessantly reminded) is in the twilight years of his career, but was able to summon the spark that led him to his first year end championships back in 2003.

The first set was a nervy trade of blows between Federer, until the critical moment came on Tsonga's service game when serving at 3-4 down he let Federer back into a point he should have finished with an easy putaway volley. Federer scrambled brilliantly and managed to put a backhand pass past Tsonga to engineer break point, before breaking to go up 5-3 and secure the first set. From that point on it looked plain sailing, and when Federer broke early in the second set, it looked like the final was over with Tsonga appearing spent. But the Frenchman admirably fought back, capitalising on a weak service game from Federer when serving for the championship and saving a match point in the tiebreaker to force a decider. The mercurial Frenchman had started to gain the upper hand in the rallies, and the match was beginning to resemble his magnificent comeback at Wimbledon. Tsonga must be a a frightening prospect to play against when he begins to snowball in confidence and power, and that's what appeared to be happening late in the second and at the start of the third, as he saved a match point with a crushing forehand, and was sending down booming serves. At this point Federer looked to be hanging on, but as he always manages to do, he picked the right moment to push for the killing stroke and put a stopper on Tsonga's momentum, breaking him midway through the final set and eventually serving it out. Although this was not his best performance of the tournament, Federer did want champions do and seized the moment, this time without faltering as he has done at other junctures this year.

Portents aside, what Federer has done this year is remarkable, even if he has been estranged from a Grand Slam since the Australian Open in 2010. He made four major semi finals and won the World Tour Finals when he could have easily been deflated to some crushing losses, one of them to his stubborn opponent, Tsonga, and showed he still has the game to compete with his younger contemporaries. As for Tsonga, he still inhabits the position of being on the cusp of accomplishing something astonishing, a Grand Slam perhaps, but chances are he would have to go through Djokovic, Nadal and Federer to do it, possibly an unfair ask.

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