Roger Federer’s hopes of ending the 2014 season as the ATP No. 1 ranked player are still alive after the Swiss beat Japan’s Kei Nishikori 6-3, 6-2 in 69 minutes at London’s O2 Arena. The Swiss’ win means he now leads the world No. 5 3-2 in their head to head and leads his round robin group with a 2-0 win-loss ratio.
Federer, like most of his fellow competitors in what has been an underwhelming start to the ATP 2014 finale, did not play his best tennis, hitting 17 winners to 18 errors. However, he did what he needed to do to get a crucial win to keep his hopes of finishing the year at the top of the ATP rankings alive.
Crucially, the Swiss kept the points short- 74 of the points were under five shots and he won 43 of them, denying, for most of the match, his opponent the rhythm he likes from the baseline. When points did go 5-9 shots, honors were more even as Federer won 16 points to Nishikori’s 15. Points that went past 9 points were 4-2 in favor of Federer. The Swiss, though, never let matters go that far too often, coming to the net 17 times in all, and winning seven of those points.
The Swiss’s main weapon in the match was his serve. He struck down seven aces and though he only made 56 percent of his first serves, he won 82 percent of those points, won 54 percent of points behind his second serve, and saved three break points in all.
The Swiss never needed to reproduce the form which saw him win titles in Basel and Shanghai this Autumn against an out of sorts opponent. It was a disappointing performance from Nishikori, the first Asian born man to qualify for the ATP World Tour Finals. He struggled with his serve- he won only 68 percent of his first service points and was broken three times- and his ground strokes were off, too, (30 errors to 15 winners), against a focused Federer. While Nishikori could get away with being sub-par against Andy Murray on the opening day of the tournament, it was never going to be good enough against a motivated Federer making his thirteenth appearance at an event he has won 6 times.
Federer’s motivation is the season ending ATP No. 1 ranking. The 17 time Grand Slam champion has a chance to equal Pete Sampras’ record six year end No.1 ranking finishes, but must win all his matches at the ATP World Tour Finals and the Davis Cup in order to achieve that feat.
The Swiss also needs Novak Djokovic to lose one of his round robin matches and get beaten in the semi-finals of the London season finale. Federer, though, can do little about Djokovic. He will have to leave that to Stan Wawrinka, his Swiss Davis Cup teammate, who will face the Serb tomorrow. All the world No.2 can do is take care of his business in his upcoming match against Andy Murray who beat Milos Raonic 6-3, 7-5 in the day’s evening session, and the smart, focused way he went about his business against Nishikori should be enough to get him a third win in his group and keep his No. 1 year end ranking dreams alive.
Commentary by Christian Deverille