Roger Federer admitted it would be ‘very special’ to reclaim the world no. 1 ranking from Novak Djokovic, after keeping his hopes of the year-end world no. 1 ranking alive with an opening win against Milos Raonic at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
Federer’s chances of reclaiming the top spot took a hit when he lost to Raonic in the quarterfinals of the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris, but he avenged that loss with a 6-1, 7-6(0) victory over the big-serving Canadian on the opening day of round-robin play at the season-ending championships, held at the o2 in London.
While the odds of Federer taking back the world no. 1 ranking are slim, they are very much alive and the 17-time Grand Slam champion admitted that it would mean a lot to him.
‘I think that would be very special because I've been there and I know how much it would mean,’ Federer said after his win over Raonic, ‘because winning a tournament is a one-week thing or a two-week thing, but getting back to world no. 1 is an entirely different animal.
‘I'll try to get there, but obviously Novak is going to dictate as well what's going to happen here.’
Djokovic will maintain his grasp on the world no. 1 ranking if he goes unbeaten in round-robin play this week. The Serb, as the top seed in London, heads Group A and will start his campaign against Marin Cilic on Monday, while Federer has a rest day before facing Kei Nishikori on Tuesday.
Federer is pursuing his seventh ATP World Tour Finals title and, if he does end the year ranked world no. 1, will tie Pete Sampras for the most year-end world no. 1 finishes (six). After starting the year ranked no. 6 and having won just one title in a mediocre (by his standards) 2013 season, it would be a remarkable achievement.
‘I didn't put any target, I think, on the rankings,’ Federer said of his 2014 objectives. ‘I was putting more [of] a target on trying to win an amount of titles, because last year I had only won one. That was quite disappointing actually, so I was trying to get maybe three to five at least. That was the goal.
‘I have five now. I think I made another five finals, then also now we're in the Davis Cup final, so it's been a very successful year. Better than I thought it was going to be. I figured I was going to struggle up until about March this year. Success kicked in quite quickly with Brisbane and the Australian Open. The rankings came by surprise that all of a sudden, I have a small shot at world no. 1 after winning Shanghai.’
With all eyes on a probable clash between Federer and Djokovic, the top two seeds in London, in the final – it would be their 37th encounter – it was no surprise that Federer was asked whether he considers his rivalry with Djokovic to be the greatest of his career.
‘I feel a special connection towards Rafa just because we did, I don't want to say come up together somewhat on the tour, but we did have a very strong, intense rivalry for many years, starting 2004 maybe,’ Federer said, bringing up Rafael Nadal, who is absent from the World Tour Finals as he recovers from surgery on a troubled appendix. ‘Especially we played each other that many times in finals of slams, which hasn't been the case with the other players as much.
‘I know Novak, the matches and the rivalry is nice. I really enjoy playing against him. It's very evenly matched, you know. But I played him more often probably in semis than in finals most likely. I don't know if that's true, but that's kind of how it felt like. Because me and Rafa were always 1 and 2 or 2 and 1 for so long. […]
‘But then also I always like to look back and see who were my tougher players when I was coming up. In the beginning I struggled against the likes of Henman, Nalbandian, Hewitt, Roddick. So for me those were really interesting players to play against. I was lucky enough that Andre Agassi played as long as he did because I got to play him also, I think almost 15 times.’
Federer’s rivalry with Nishikori is in its early stages, but their head-to-head stands at an even 2-2, each winning one match this season. With both players winning their first-round matches, the outcome of their match on Tuesday could be crucial as the round-robin action intensifies.