- ATP World Tour Finals
Underdog Federer ready to bite back
Before entering London, the aim of the players at the ATP World Tour Finals was to qualify for the last four. For Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka, the expectations have been raised.
Two matches separate one of these players from the trophy, renamed in honour of Brad Drewett after the former ATP president and executive chairman sadly passed away in May following a long battle with Motor Neurone Disease.
The pick of the semi-finals is the clash between Federer and Nadal as the pair resume an old rivalry which dominated the sport for several years. After staring defeat in the face against Del Potro and with it an exit from the tournament, Federer admitted he did not like the fact his season was set to come to an end. And maybe his picture being absent from the huge promotional posters outside the fanzone in the arena was a sign.
It would have been a telling obituary to Federer's season had he failed to qualify from the group for only the second time in his career. "I see the light at the end of the tunnel. There are two more matches and that's it," a smiling, confident and upbeat Federer added after his Saturday shootout win.
And confidence is something that Federer thrives on. He is turning to the season-ending event as his saviour for a tough year. With just one tournament win in Halle to his name, Federer has come to London as if his season is ready to begin. "I just have to have the right mindset to give it one last go, and maybe play with a little less pressure than I have in previous matches against him. I feel like an underdog because of the circumstances, because of my year and because of his year," said Federer about his approach against Nadal.
Rafa has been rampant when fit in 2013, which is why he is the year-end world No. 1, and not even the Spaniard would have envisaged the great comeback he has had after missing over seven months and returning in February from a knee problem to sweep all before him with two grand slams and 10 other titles.
When on court to pick up his awards for being the season-ending top-ranked player and being rewarded for his performances with the Comeback Player of the Year trophy, Nadal looked up to the giant screens at the O2 showing a montage of what he has achieved this year, and there was almost a tear in his eye where 12 months ago tears may have been shed for the wrong reasons with his career-threatening injury.
The World Tour Finals is the major event missing from his glittering CV, and how the Spaniard would love to put that right come Monday evening. "We are playing against the best players in the world. The only way to win the match in the semi-finals is to play my best match and playing fantastic tennis. That's what I'm going to try and do," said Nadal.
Whether Nadal wins the tournament or not, it will not overshadow his phenomenal year, but deep down there is a determination of the Manacor native this week. Though he leads Federer 21-10 in the head-to-head record, it is the numbers in the 'Indoors' column which requires a closer look at, which has a '4' next to Federer and a '0' alongside Nadal.
The week kicked off with Nadal claiming to be "unlucky" with the event being played under a roof. Federer hopes the tournament remains at the O2 and said indoors "deserves" to have a major competition such as the season-finale.
Two of those four meetings played under a roof have come in London. Federer lifted the title in 2010 by beating Nadal in the Spaniard's one and only appearance in the final, and the Swiss blew him off the court in the group phase the year before, but expect a memorable clash with plenty of standing ovations as they battle for a third time this season.
The second semi-final is between Djokovic and debutant Wawrinka, and while Rafa and Roger have been making all the headlines, Nole has quietly gone about his business in the machine-like manner he does.
He is on a 20 match-win streak heading into this match, has not lost since the final of the US Open, and has won the last three events he has played in. Wawrinka will thank us for reminding him of that.
For the past two seasons Djokovic has ended the year as world No. 1, so is the Serb frustrated that Nadal has trumped him? "It's very encouraging circumstances that I'm in right now. I'm playing the best tennis I've played throughout the whole season. I'm feeling more confident than I was a few months ago," he said.
The Swiss contingent has more than one player to cheer for in London, with Wawrinka continuing his fairy tale debut. He was granted access to the semi-finals when Nadal ended the hopes of Tomas Berdych.
Wawrinka once again will not thank us for reminding him that his record is, how can we put this, woeful against Djokovic - just two wins in 16 matches. However, he came mighty close to doubling that tally this year at the Australian and US Opens in two of the greatest matches of the season. Djokovic went deep into the night in Australia to win 12-10 in a final set in the last 16, and came through in five tough sets in the semi-finals at the US Open.
At least Wawrinka would have had a nice conversation with a jubilant Federer on Saturday night after the great man revealed they will pass on "a few little things that they know" to one another about their semi-final opponents.
"I lost against him quite easily last week in Paris. He was playing really good," Wawrinka said of his recent loss to Djokovic in Bercy. Those notes from Federer might come in handy.
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