Roger Federer is on the verge of qualifying for the semifinals at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals – and Andy Murray’s match against Milos Raonic tonight is now a must-win for the British player – after a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Kei Nishikori.
Federer will qualify for the semifinals if Raonic beats Murray or if Murray wins in three sets, as he is top of Group B after two straight-sets victories.
Despite some early flurries of excitement in the opening exchanges, the match quickly became a routine march to victory for Federer as the wait for a three-set match – or even a truly competitive straight-sets match – goes on.
Nishikori and Federer have split their matches this season and entered the World Tour Finals with a 2-2 head-to-head, but despite a strong win for Nishikori in his opening round-robin match against Andy Murray, the Japanese star didn’t quite have it in him today to push Federer – possibly due to a right wrist injury for which he has received treatment in both his matches so far at the o2 Arena.
It did look in the early stretches of the match that we might be in for a close one. Federer had to dig himself out of trouble in his opening service game, coming up with some good serves to hold from 30-30, before Nishikori landed a quickfire backhand winner and forced a volley error from Federer to earn the first of two break points on Federer’s serve at 1-1. The Swiss player snuffed out the first with an ace, but Nishikori’s backhand twice pegged Federer back from game point and the US Open finalist had a second chance to break when Federer fired a cross-court forehand wide.
It was Nishikori’s best chance but he squandered it, failing to take advantage of a short ball and ending the rally with an error, and Federer – as he has a tendency to do – pounced as Nishikori served at 1-2. A double fault got Nishikori into trouble for 30-30 before Federer produced two lightning forehand winners from the baseline to break and take a 3-1 lead.
There was a sliver of a chance for Nishikori to break back as Federer served to consolidate, but it was snuffed out and as Federer led 4-1, the collapse began on the other side of the net. Nishikori was struggling to land first serves and his backhand was misfiring and although he saved a point for a double break at 1-4, Federer steamed ahead to serve for the set at 5-3.
It wasn’t as if Federer was playing impeccably, either; he double-faulted and made an unforced error for 30-30 as he served for the set, but Nishikori, granted a look at a soft second serve, put the return in the net and Federer sealed the set.
After treatment on his wrist, Nishikori held to love in 73 seconds to open the second set but at 1-1, a double fault to 15-30 opened the door for Federer who stormed through it after more unforced errors from Nishikori and in no time at all the Swiss player led by a set and a break. Nishikori came back from a set and a break down to beat Federer in Miami earlier this year, but there was no sign of any such revival today as his unforced errors – particularly on the backhand wing – continued to mount and he double-faulted the double break away at 2-4.
Once again, the opportunity was there for Nishikori to make Federer work hard as he served for it, this time going 0-30 up on the second seed’s serve at 5-2, but Federer served his way out of trouble, even saving a break point before closing out the match with a service winner.
At least this effort lasted longer than both yesterday’s singles matches, each of which took less than an hour, but Nishikori’s five double faults, first-serve percentage of 54 and 15 winners to 30 unforced errors are hardly inspiring numbers.
‘I'm happy, you know, after two matches I'm standing here with two wins,’ Federer said afterwards. ‘It's very positive. That's about it.’