Novak Djokovic defied the vehemently pro-Swiss crowd to defeat Roger Federer in his opening group match at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
Red and white was dotted all around London’s O2 Arena but there was to be no happy ending for the six-times champion as Djokovic clinched a 6-4, 6-7 (2/7), 6-2 win, his 18th in a row.
It was a rematch of last year’s final, which was also won by Djokovic, while the Serb beat Federer in the semi-finals of the Paris Masters on Saturday before going on to win his third straight title.
“It was a big challenge physically,” Djokovic said. “Only 48 hours ago, I was playing in Paris so to be able to play this well and beat Roger is incredible.
“First of all, I have to enjoy the win and then think about the recovery because it’s a big win. The good thing is, there is a day off. I’m going to try to recharge my batteries mentally and physically and get ready for [Juan Martin] Del Potro.”
Federer has shown much improved form of late but, once again, the consistent excellence required to beat the likes of Djokovic or Rafael Nadal was missing.
Buoyed by his improved results, and no doubt the vocal support, Federer looked confident early on but Djokovic’s backhand was extremely sharp.
The first break point did not arrive until the ninth game and it was Federer who had the chance after Djokovic served two double faults. The crowd thought he had taken it with a forehand down the line but the Swiss knew he had missed it, and it was to prove very costly.
A loose next game from Federer offered up two set points to his opponent and, although he saved one, an overcooked forehand on the second handed it to Djokovic. Federer saved two break points in the second game of the second set, and three games later the match turned. From 40-0, Federer broke to lead 3-2, a blistering backhand down the line setting up the chance before Djokovic sent a forehand well long.
It appeared the sixth seed had blown his chance when a double fault handed the break straight back but Djokovic had lost his rhythm and Federer broke again to love. That gave him the chance to level the match but he could not take it, missing a set point and then dumping a regulation backhand into the net and letting a flash of anger show.
He played a brilliant tie-break, though, taking the attack to Djokovic and winning five straight points to finish it off.
Djokovic began the third set with an immediate break. When he broke again for 4-1, a weary forehand flying wide from the Swiss, it was all but over and the second seed served it out to love.
Earlier, Rafael Nadal said he was happy to make up for lost time as he began his finals campaign with a thumping victory over David Ferrer. The world No 1 was not able to play at the O2 Arena last year because of knee problems but, since returning in February, Nadal has won ten tournaments, including two grand slam titles, and he is chasing the one major trophy missing from his CV.
Ferrer provided little opposition, the third seed failing to find the form that helped him beat Nadal in the semi-finals of the Paris Masters on Saturday as he went down 6-3, 6-2 in just an hour and 14 minutes.
Nadal said: “It’s a stadium that I really love. I enjoy it every time. First of all, what it means to be playing here, because it shows you had a great season and, at the same time, the atmosphere, the lights. Even if I was not able to play my best a lot of times here, I really have great feelings every time I have the chance to be playing in this stadium. Last year was a big miss for me.”
A straight-sets victory over Stanislas Wawrinka today would book Nadal’s place in the last four and also secure the year-end No 1 ranking ahead of Djokovic.