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Federer proud of 'historic season' despite ATP Finals semifinal defeat

Hannah Wilks in News 17 Nov 2018
  • Roger Federer proud of 'historic season' despite ATP Finals semifinal defeat to Alexander Zverev
  • Federer singled out return to no. 1 as one of the highlights of 2018
Roger Federer salutes the crowd as he leaves the court after losing to Alexander Zverev in the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Roger Federer is proud of his 'historic season' in 2018 despite semifinal defeat to Alexander Zverev.

Roger Federer's 2018 season may have ended in defeat at the hands of Alexander Zverev on Saturday, but the 37-year-old insisted that he is looking forward to 2019 after a 'very, very positive season'. 

Federer lost 5-7, 6-7(5) to Zverev, who is 16 years his junior, in the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals on Saturday, meaning that for the second straight year he has failed to get past the semifinal stage at the elite season-ending championships. Federer has won the ATP Finals a record six times, but last lifted the trophy in 2011 and hasn't reached the final since 2015 - and Novak Djokovic could well tie his record six titles this weekend.

Federer was hoping to win his 100th ATP title, a haul equalled only by Jimmy Connors who ended his career with 109. But the Swiss showed that he was anything but crushed by the defeat to Zverev in his response to a journalist who began his question with 'You need 100 titles -'

Federer cut him off, interjecting smilingly: 'I don't need it, but go ahead. I will breathe air also if I don't.'

Currently ranked world no. 3, Federer began 2018 by winning his first 17 matches of the season, claiming the Australian Open title - the 20th major title of his career - and becoming the oldest man ever to be ranked world no. 1 when he reclaimed the top spot in the rankings after winning the ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam.

Federer would go on to win the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart and the Swiss Indoors Basel, but he did not win another major in 2018, suffering a quarterfinal defeat to Kevin Anderson at Wimbledon and a shock loss at the hands of John Millman in the round of 16 at the Australian Open. Federer also failed to win a Masters 1000 Series title in 2018, defeated in both finals he reached by Juan Martin del Potro at Indian Wells and Djokovic in Cincinnati. He ends the season with a 48-10 win-loss record.

By Federer's own superlative standards, it's been a mixed bag of a season, but the Swiss star was keen to accentuate the undeniable positives even while still processing the disappointment of having been defeated by Zverev.

“[Pete] Sampras once upon a time said, "If you win a Slam, it's a good season." So [my season] started great. I played super well in Australia again. So obviously I can't wait to go back there in a couple of months,' Federer said. 

'The second half of the season could have been better, maybe. I also have high hopes to always do well. So I'm happy I gave myself opportunities again in that second half of the season. I maybe lost a couple of too-close matches that could have changed things around for me a little bit.'

Federer had referred to Wimbledon, where he lost to Anderson 11-13 in the fifth set after winning the first two sets, and the US Open where he struggled with crushing heat and humidity in a four-set defeat to Millman, as 'disappointments' when speaking to the press before the season-ending championships began. And it's probable those matches were in his mind when he referred to losing 'too-close' matches. 

And although he lost to Zverev in straight sets on Saturday, the match was nevertheless a close one, with Federer being broken to love at the tail end of the first set to lose it and then unlucky in the second set when a dropped ball led to a point being replayed at 4-3 in the tie-break - a rally that Federer was well in, if not controlling, was erased and instead Zverev got a first serve, which he used to land an ace. A missed volley from Federer three points later was the margin of victory in the tie-break.

Sections of the crowd, presumably Federer fans, responded by booing Zverev unpleasantly during his post-match, on-court interview, but Federer declined to fuel the fire after the match. 

'Booing, I never like it. We see it in other sports all the time, but in tennis it’s rare. So when it happens, it gets very personal and we take it very direct,' he said. 

‘I think it’s unfortunate that this happened. Sascha doesn’t deserve it. He apologized to me at the net. I was like, "Buddy, shut up. You don’t need to apologize to me here. Congratulations on a great match and a great tournament so far. All the best for the finals." And you move on. 

'He shouldn’t be apologizing. He didn’t do anything about it. He just called it how it was. He felt it affected play. There is a rule that if something like this happens, obviously you replay points.'

Federer had his own moments of on-court frustration earlier in the week, given a warning by the umpire for swiping a ball into the crowd in anger during his straight-sets defeat to Kei Nishikori. But he credited the decision to take a rest day instead of practicing with reviving his tournament after the Nishikori defeat and went on to beat Dominic Thiem and Anderson in straight sets to finish top of the group and avoid Djokovic in the semifinals - although that ultimately didn't turn out to be significant.

Every defeat for Federer is followed by inevitable speculation about when the 37-year-old will finally decide to hang up his racquets, but Federer not only confirmed that he will be back in 2019, but focused on the future and took a measured view of his season.

'I must tell you I'm very proud that at 37 I'm still so competitive and so happy playing tennis. From that standpoint, as disappointed as I might be about this match, if I take a step back, I'm actually very happy about the season,' Federer said. 

'It's been a historic season in some ways. Got back to world no. 1. For me, that was a huge moment in my life, to be honest, in my career because I never thought I would get there again.'

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Federer proud of 'historic season' despite ATP Finals semifinal defeat

Roger Federer's 2018 season may have ended in defeat at the hands of Alexander Zverev in the semifinals of the ATP Finals but the 37-year-old insisted he has high hopes for 2019 after 'very, very positive season'

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