The world at his feet: Stefanos Tsitsipas reacts after defeating Roger Federer in the semifinals of the Nitto ATP Finals (PA Images)
Stefanos Tsitsipas scored a stunning victory over Roger Federer to reach the final on his debut at the ATP Finals.
The youngest man in the Nitto ATP Finals field has led the way into the final of the 2019 season-ending championships after Stefanos Tsitsipas stunned a shaky Roger Federer in Saturday’s semifinals.
Tsitsipas defied a partisan crowd, a gulf in experience and a schedule which favoured his opponent to defeat Federer 6-3, 6-4.
Six-time ATP Finals champion Federer, 17 years Tsitsipas’s senior, made more than 15 unforced errors on his forehand wing alone during the one-hour, 36-minute match, and converted only one of the 12 break points he created.
Federer, who is not playing next week’s Davis Cup Finals, ends a 2019 season which saw him just one point away from the Wimbledon title but ultimately unable to grasp it. And there’s a particular irony that his year was more or less bookended by defeats to Tsitsipas in which he, Federer, failed to convert numerous break points. Federer beat Tsitsipas in Dubai and x but on the two biggest stages on which they faced off, it was the younger man who was the tougher, saving all of the 12 break points he faced against Federer at the Australian Open and almost matching that performance at the season-ending championships on Saturday.
‘The result shows [he was mentally better on break points],’ Federer said afterwards. ‘Even though spinning it into the body and then getting an error, I don’t know if that’s, like, mental toughness.
‘Sure, he didn’t double fault, he didn’t do anything silly, and he’s tough as nails.’
The world no. 3 will surely be bitterly disappointed in what was a below-par performance from him, particularly after he rose to the occasion to deliver a superb display against Novak Djokovic in Thursday’s round-robin match, defeating the Serb for the first time in five years 6-4, 6-3. It felt as if Federer, who had started slowly with a defeat to Dominic Thiem, might be peaking at the right time to claim the ATP Finals title for a seventh time, particularly when the vagaries of the schedule had favoured him with 24 hours’ additional rest while Tsitsipas had battled for almost three hours against Rafael Nadal less than 24 hours before the start of the semifinal.
Federer, who won the coin toss, elected to receive and immediately earned a break point on Tsitsipas’s serve after he accurately read and anticipated the Greek’s backhand cross-court drop shot, but was unable to convert and a flurry of unforced errors on the forehand not only saw Tsitsipas hold to open but spelled trouble on Federer’s own opening service game, in which the Swiss was promptly broken after missing two overheads in the same game – a surely unheard-of event in Federer’s career up to his point.
Tsitsipas whipped a forehand winner down the line to break and consolidated to 15 in what would be his easiest service game for some time, with Federer pushing to deuce on the next service game and then building a 0-40 lead on Tsitsipas’s serve at 4-2. As he had done against Nadal for almost the entire match, however, Tsitsipas kept producing some of his best serving on break points and forged ahead to 5-3.
This in many regards was the turning point of the match, with Federer finding some of his best tennis including a casually dazzling backhand return winner to save set point, yet unable to close out the game. Two break points for Federer and six set points for Tsitsipas came and went before the Greek closed out a game that lasted more than 13 minutes before Tsitsipas won his seventh set point to take his first set from Federer since the Australian Open.
The calamity continued to unroll for Federer as he threw in a horror-show of a service game at 1-1 in the second set, failing to find a single first serve and promptly being broken to love. Tsitsipas finally capitulated on a break point – Federer’s tenth of the match – with a forehand unforced error to be broken back, but the reprieve for the Swiss was only temporary as his forehand continued to misfire and Tsitsipas broke with a backhand winner to lead 3-2.
‘I’m frustrated I couldn’t play better, and when I did and fought my way back, I threw it away again,’ Federer said. ‘[…] It’s the year-end. It’s over now and I can’t make it better. I tried everything I could.’
This time, Tsitsipas would admit no errors as he consolidated the break to lead 4-2 before digging himself out of a 15-30 hole to lead 5-3. Federer held serve to force Tsitsipas to serve for the match, and very nearly reaped the rewards of his effort as Tsitsipas went down 15-40. But again, Tsitsipas saved both break points before closing out the match – with an ace – on his first match point.
As Federer left the court to thunderous applause and the Nitto ATP Finals was guaranteed a champion from outside the Big Three for the third year in a row, suggesting that although the Federer-Nadal-Djokovic triumvirate still hold dominion over the Grand Slams and world no. 1 ranking, their hegemony is being signally eroded in other areas, the ATP Tour held a ceremony honouring players who had retired over the past couple of years – including Tomas Berdych, who officially announced his retirement on Saturday.
The honorees included Berdych (34), David Ferrer (37), Nicolas Almagro (34), Mikhail Youzhny (37) and Marcos Baghdatis (34) – all of them younger than Federer.
Federer left the court before the ceremony began, but Tsitsipas stayed to watch, shirtless and sweating in his chair, applauding the suited retirees politely. The messaging was no less loud and clear for being organic and coincidental: Tsitsipas is 21; his potential opponents in the final, Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem, are 22 and 26 respectively. To paraphrase defending champion Zverev, it seems that at least where the ATP Finals is concerned, it’s their f**king time now.
Tsitsipas scores stunning victory over error-prone Federer to reach final of the 2019 ATP Finals
Stefanos Tsitsipas scored a stunning victory over Roger Federer to reach the final on his debut at the ATP Finals….
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