Federer wins 2011 Year-End Championships

16:25 Sun 27 Nov 2011
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Roger Federer added yet another record to his list by beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6–3, 6–7 (6), 6–3 to win the ATP World Tour Finals. Federer has now won it six times, more than any other player in history (Sampras and Lendl both won it 5 times), with three sets of back-to-back victories, 2003–2004, 2006–2007, and 2010–2011. It was also his 100th final appearance, his 70th tournament victory, and his 807th match win.

Tsonga didn’t make it easy for him. Early in the first set, Tsonga looked the better player: he was serving better, doing better in rallies, and hadn’t lost more than a point in any of his service games. Federer looked like he wasn’t getting much penetration on his shots, allowing Tsonga plenty of time to tee up for winners. Then, serving at 3–4, Tsonga’s serve was slightly worse, and Federer suddenly stepped up his play, breaking Tsonga to love and then serving out the set. It was classic opportunistic tennis backed up by excellent serving, and in the second set, Federer kept his high level of play, breaking Tsonga early.

At that point, it looked over, but Federer wasn’t serving well. In the early part of the second set, Tsonga was making a lot of errors, but was still hitting the majority of winners. Unfortunately I wasn’t that surprised when Federer’s poor serving coincided with Tsonga improving his form just as Federer was serving for the match at 5–4, and Federer’s only points in that game were the two that came off first serves—he lost all four points on second serves to give up the break. He was up early in the tiebreak, having been given some early gifts by Tsonga, but couldn’t make it hold up, and Tsonga saved a match point at 5–6 with tremendous forehand hitting. Federer didn’t get another chance in the tiebreak, which Tsonga took 8–6.

Federer has lost a bunch of matches this year after having match points, most notably against Djokovic in the US Open semifinal, and also lost to Tsonga at Wimbledon despite winning the first two sets. At the start of the third set today, Tsonga had the momentum and simply looked the stronger player. However, Federer managed the set very well, improving his serve and waiting for his chance.

Against Tsonga at Wimbledon, that didn’t work—Tsonga’s play never dipped, and Federer was seemingly unable to dominate play. I thought this might happen again, as Tsonga was dominating the baseline rallies with power hitting—but also missing quite a few shots due to his high-risk approach. Federer couldn’t seem to out-hit him, but did manage the situation very well, not giving up easy points and using his tactical awareness to outmaneuver Tsonga enough to offset Tsonga’s power advantage.

With Tsonga serving at 3–4, he couldn’t shake Federer off and get out of the game. He saved a number of break points, but Federer found the right mix and clinched the critical break. Unlike in the second set, where I wasn’t surprised that Federer couldn’t hold, this time it seemed entirely inevitable that he would, and he delivered, winning the game at love to clinch the title.

Once again, Federer finished the season stronger than any of his rivals. He demolished Nadal, 6–3, 6–0, in the round-robin stage[1], and neither Novak Djokovic nor Andy Murray made it out of their group. Federer won the YEC without dropping a match for the fifth time, the only player to ever have done so more than once. Djokovic, Nadal, and Murray all complained about the length of the season and their tiredness, but Federer looked smooth and tireless as ever (although he did state that he was exhausted after the final). Last year, the late-season success didn’t translate to the Australian Open, as he lost to Djokovic at the semifinal stage.

Next year, it may be different; much depends on the extent to which the other players can recover from their 2011 campaigns. If the Australian Open started tomorrow, you’d really have to take Federer as the favorite.

The victory clearly meant a lot to Federer, and it is a historic one. Surpassing Lendl and Sampras is no small thing. Dominating younger opponents when they wilt at the end of the year is an important statement for a 30-year-old, and while a year without a Grand Slam is a disappointment by Federer’s standards, it’s important to recognize that a Slams/YEC record of SF/F/QF/SF/W is clear evidence that he’s still right in there as a threat.

The tournament brings Federer back to number three in the world after briefly dropping to number four. I still think it’s possible for him to get back to number one—which I would love to see, because two weeks at number one in the world would give him the record for most weeks there—but his main rivals would definitely have to stumble.

It’s certainly possible for him to win another Grand Slam, and perhaps without his rivals stumbling; I suspect that the Australian and US Opens are the most likely, though he would probably be most eager to win another Wimbledon title.

Going into 2012, the big questions are: can Djokovic recapture his 2011 form? Can Nadal figure out how to beat Djokovic after going 0–6 against him in 2011? Can Federer keep enough momentum to overcome the two of them and possibly win another Slam to extend his record? Some others include whether or not Murray can win a Slam, whether Del Potro can make it back to the top of the game, and whether any other player will emerge to break into the big three/four.

[1] Nadal has never beaten Federer indoors, where Federer has a 4–0 edge in matches and an 8–1 edge in sets. Take away clay (Nadal 12–2) and indoor courts, and their head-to-head record is 5–3 Nadal.

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One Response to “Federer wins 2011 Year-End Championships”

  1. Niall Says:

    Go Fed!

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