Roger Federer (Photo Roberto Zanettin / Insidefoto/Sipa USA)
Roger Federer and Stefanos Tsitsipas meet for the fourth time this year on Saturday, as they battle for a spot in the final of the Nitto ATP Finals.
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Tsitsipas stunned Federer with a superb victory at the Australian Open in January in their first ever encounter, but Federer has responded with back-to-back wins in Dubai and Basel to take the lead in the series- can the great Swiss score a third straight victory over the young Greek to reach the championship match at the year-end Finals for an 11th time?
Federer has been incredibly consistent in this tournament over the years- he will be featuring in his 16th semi-final in seventeen appearances on Saturday as he continues his bid for a record-extending seventh title at the season-ending Finals.
That bid got off to a sluggish start at the start of the week, with the great Swiss losing 7-5 7-5 to an admittedly inspired Dominic Thiem in his tournament opener, but he got his campaign back on track with victory over Matteo Berrettini, doing just about enough to take down the Italian debutant, 7-6 6-3.
Faced with a winner-takes-all shootout against Novak Djokovic in his final group match, Federer produced not just his best performance of the week, but also, one of his best in recent seasons to score a sparkling 6-4 6-3 victory over the Serbian, sealing his semi-final passage while simultaneously ending Djokovic’s interest in the tournament.
The Swiss was relentless in offence, but he also played with remarkable control and accuracy, striking 23 winners and just five errors- a hugely impressive number against arguably the finest defender in the sport. Federer served superbly throughout the contest, hitting 12 aces, and dropping just 11 points behind his serve (first and second combined) in the clinical 73-minute encounter.
“Great atmosphere, a great opponent here in London at The O2, definitely incredibly special. Just a night I enjoyed from the beginning. I played incredible, and I knew I had to because that’s what Novak does and I was able to produce. So it was definitely magical,” said Federer who snapped a five-match losing streak against Djokovic.
“There was a lot riding on the match. I think I served great, had great anticipation, a clear game plan and it worked to perfection tonight… It was a great performance tonight from me.”
Federer is looking to join Djokovic and Thiem on a tour-leading fifth title of the season, having already won in Dubai, Miami, Halle and Basel earlier in the year. The great Swiss also made finals at Indian Wells and Wimbledon (where he lost an agonizing heart-breaker against Djokovic having had two match points), while he made a respectable semi-final at Roland Garros on his return to clay-court tennis following a two-year hiatus from the surface. Overall, it’s been another brilliant season for Federer, who keeps going strong even at 38, and he is well on course for the perfect finish as he heads into the final weekend of his 2019 campaign.
Speaking of brilliant seasons, how about Stefanos Tsitsipas’ year? The Greek has surged through the rankings this year, rocketing from outside the top-90 at the start of the season to establish himself into the top ten. The early evidence suggests that he will be there for a very long time.
At the end of last season, Tsitsipas was winning the Next Gen ATP Finals, but here he is 12 months later with an excellent chance of lifting the Nitto ATP Finals. The 21-year-old has put together a very impressive debut campaign in London, scoring straight set wins over Daniil Medvedev and defending champion, Alexander Zverev to book his semi-final berth after just two matches.
His perfect record was soiled by Rafael Nadal in his final group match- the world No. 1 winning 6-7 6-4 7-5 after almost three hours of high-quality tennis. It was great to see Tsitsipas battling all the way against Nadal, as he could have easily reined it in and conserved some energy for the semi-finals, knowing that he would be back on court for another potentially difficult duel on the next day. However, that could well be a crucial factor on Saturday when he faces Federer, who has had the extra day’s rest.
Can the Greek make that quick turnaround and be ready to go full tilt against Federer on Saturday afternoon?
“My body feels well currently. I don’t feel pain anywhere. I feel fresh, honestly,” Tsitsipas said. “After having a long, difficult match like this, I feel like I can go out and play tomorrow the same way. So I don’t have any problem with that.”
Tsitsipas is seeking his sixth final of the season, having won titles in Marseille and Estoril, and finished runner-up in Dubai, Madrid and Beijing. That wonderful Australian Open semi-final at the start of the year will always stand out- as it effectively launched him into a career-best year. He defeated Federer in that Melbourne campaign- can he do it again in London on Saturday?
Federer has beaten Tsitsipas a couple of times since that January meeting, in the Dubai final, where the Swiss claimed his milestone 100th career title, and the Basel semi-finals just a few weeks ago. The world No. 3 was not at his best at the start of the week in London, but he accelerated into stratospheric levels against Djokovic in his final group match. He was unplayable for large parts of that contest, and if he touches those heights again, finding his mark with the serve, and hitting his spots off the ground, he will be very hard to stop.
Tsitsipas is a fine competitor, and will bring plenty of firepower and aggression, but so will Federer, who executes this game plan better than anyone else on the tour. He’s also got the extra variety and quality in shot-making, all of which should propel the Swiss into another final at the Nitto ATP Finals.
Roger Federer vs Stefanos Tsitsipas is live from London on Saturday, 16 November from 2:00pm local time/ 2:00pm GMT