Anything less than a straight sets win on Tuesday against Matteo Berrettini would have left Roger Federer's stay in London hanging by a thread. The Swiss had lost to Dominic Thiem in his first round-robin match at the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals, and was playing catch up.
Luckily for him, Federer overcame his hiccups to register his 58th win at the ATP Finals tournament and give himself a chance to qualify for the semi-final.
By his own assessment, over the years, Federer learned to take lessons from his on-court experience, making subtle adjustments to his game. Round-robin matches at the ATP Finals are quite tricky, and even a player of Federer's calibre cannot take them lightly.
Playing against the 23-year-old Italian, Federer fought hard in the first set. It was a tough contest with both players holding their serve, taking it to the tiebreaker.
Moving into the court and leaving the baseline behind unguarded is something that comes to Federer quite naturally. Strictly speaking, he is one player who does not have to worry about his court position that often, as long as he is able to hit those handsome half-volleys on the return.
In his first match of the tournament, Thiem kept Federer just around the baseline by directing his returns at Roger's feet, a feeling that was quite unsettling to the Basel native. But in his match against Berrettini on Tuesday, Federer managed to keep the pressure on by selectively moving in, allowing the Italian very little time on the ball whenever he did so.
Besides, the Swiss used the backhand slice and nudge-forehand returns quite effectively, neutralizing the 1.96 m tall Rome resident's massive first serves. Although the world number three squandered a couple of break points in the 12th game of the first set, he raced to a 4-1 lead in the tiebreaker that ensued.
After 42 minutes of quality tennis by both players, Federer won the set 7-6.
At the start of the second set, the Swiss maestro broke Berrettini to love, converting his first break point opportunity. Then in the third game, on Berrettini's serve, both players hit a couple of tremendous lobs which were thoroughly entertaining to watch.
A 72-second service hold in the next game put the six time ATP Finals champion in total command. By now, the TV commentators were discussing the prospects of the Djokovic-Thiem tie which was scheduled to be played later on.
In a marathon eighth game, Berrettini earned himself two break points - first by ripping a passing shot and next by stifling Federer at the net. However, Federer's unrelenting determination saved them both, and he held serve.
As the match went on, it became apparent that the young Italian was fading away. Federer eventually ran out a straight sets winner, closing the match out 7-6, 6-3.
Up next, Federer faces world number two Novak Djokovic. In his post-match on-court interview, Federer expressed hope that he would be able to play much better in his last round-robin match.
However, Federer fans know that he faces a daunting prospect against the 16-time Slam champion in a must-win situation. He has not defeated Djokovic since the 2015 ATP Finals, and his job will be anything but easy on Thursday.Published 13 Nov 2019, 00:34 IST