By Jane Voigt
For the love of tennis what the heck is going on at the ATP World Tour Finals? The first five round-robin matches have been straight set wins, with two yesterday earning breadstick awards, meaning two of these elite players could only muster one game per set.
This tournament isn’t for babies. Each player is asked to stand at attention on day one, which was Sunday, and play as if he’d eased into a quarterfinal at a major. That’s a tough ask, but that’s not how it works at the O2 Arena in London.
Tomas Berdych and Marin Cilic, the U. S. Open Champion and first-timer at the end-of-year tournament, were the breadstick award recipients. This is Berdych’s fifth consecutive World Tour Final so he should be better, right? Not according to the record book. Berdych has never won his opening match. Cilic’s loss will be chalked up to nerves. Somebody has to give the guy a break.
Roger Federer knows the routine. He’s won the World Tour Finals six times. He faced Milos Raonic Sunday and made darn sure the six-foot-four Canadian, who had the audacity to beat him at the Paris Masters did not — did not — repeat the humiliation.
Same thing today for Federer. His opponent was Kei Nishikori. Their head-to-head was 2-2, the Japanese star having beaten Federer in Miami and Madrid this year. Wasn’t going to happen today, though. Not in Federer London land.
“He’s shown in the past when he gets the upper hand against any player from the baseline, he’s very difficult to beat,” Federer said, reported Tennis.com. “Today, for some reason, he couldn’t get it done. Maybe I was playing too well, but I know Kei can play better. So, for me, it was really important to take advantage of the fact that I was feeling really good, and then maybe he was struggling a little bit today.”
Neither man played their best at the same time, which makes a good match. However, Federer pulled off the win 63 62 in sixty-nine minutes. Federer earned 17 winners and 18 unforced errors. Kei had 15 winners compared to 30 unforced errors. Federer approached the net only 17 times and won a paltry 7 points.
Nishikori’s inconsistent backhand threw off his confidence early. He is also dealing with a right wrist injury, which has required two medical time outs, one in each of his matches. Combine these adversities and no matter what Federer does that’s a squeak above par, he’s bound to win.
“Once he gets away it’s difficult to bring him in,” Rob Koening said, calling the match on ESPN3.
Federer is now 2-0 in his group. He could clinch a spot in the semifinals if Milos Raonic wins one set from Andy Murray in the evening’s spotlighted match.
This was Federer’s 70th match win for the year. It’s a record he has met and exceeded over a number of years: 2003 (78), 2004 (74), 2005 (81), 2006 (92), 2012 (71).
To be perfectly clear, the 5-match straight set victories at this event is not a first. In the round-robin section of the 2010 World Tour Final, there were 9 successive straight-set wins and a total of 11 out of 12 for the round-robin phase.