Federer’s landmark London victory sets stage for tennis in 2012

By Cressida Smart

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga made a strong start to the final of the ATP Tour Finals in London. Opening his account, the Frenchman delivered a mammoth ace, and lost only one point in his first three service games. Roger Federer responded with equal force, upping his game to break Tsonga to love at 4-3 with two archetypal backhands and a passing shot, allowing him then to close out the first set.  The resulting score presented Tsonga with a familiar feeling of déjà vu; a week ago, he experienced a similar collapse in the deciding set of their group match.

In the second set, Federer came close to laying his hands on the trophy as he stood a set and a break up. Such an easy outcome was not to be the case, as Tsonga forced a tie break. As tensions rose and a nervous crowd sat on the edge of their seats, Federer strove ahead to a 5-2 lead, setting up match point with an ace at 6-5. With the grit and determination we have seen before, Tsonga hit back. He wrong-footed Federer with a forehand on match point and sent down a thunderous serve for set point and won it with a vicious forehand that landed at the feet of the reigning champion.  A delighted crowd cheered on as the match went into a decider.

It was game seven in the third set that proved to be the clincher as Federer cranked up the intensity to break for a 5-3 lead. Serving out the match to love and completing victory with a smash, the maestro had returned and Federer was once again, as he had been in 2010, the victor. This triumph marked Federer’s 100th career final and his 70th title. It also saw him overtake Lendl and Sampras, winning an unprecedented sixth title at this event.

This monumental win is a slap in the face to Federer’s sceptics. He faced criticism for his extended break after the US Open, choosing not to play in Asia. Consequently, Federer lost his position as world number three when Andy Murray scooped three titles and leapfrogged him in the rankings. Murray has made no disguise of his determination to break into the top three and the rise was welcomed in the Scot’s support camp. One suspects, however, that Murray and his team were quite aware that the lead was miniscule and his position above Federer ran the risk of being short-lived.

Before the ATP Tour Final began, Murray responded to some supposedly antagonistic comments from Federer when he said “We can let our tennis do that talking.” Looking back, Murray could not have predicted the accuracy of his words. His only match saw him lose to David Ferrer before his withdrawal from the tournament. In a game marred by 44 unforced errors, he lost to a player ranked below him and one he has beaten in their last four meetings.

Equally, Federer’s tennis spoke for itself.  He remained undefeated in a tournament that brings together the top eight players. He played with the elegance, genius and maturity we have long seen and expect of this great player. The 16-time grand slam winner has returned to the number three spot and for the fourth year running, Murray finishes the year as world number four. A remarkable achievement by anyone’s standards, but the nagging doubts that lurk in Murray’s mind must surely be reignited.

Tim Henman said last week of the British No1, “We must not forget what a fantastic season he has had.” No one is denying Murray’s remarkable success this year; he has improved yet again, showing consistency and glimpses of brilliance. However, the same could be said for Janko Tipsarevic, who benefited from Murray’s withdrawal. He began the year ranked 49 and finishes at 9; surely a noteworthy achievement?

No one wants to be unpatriotic, but is it not what everyone is thinking? Once again, Murray has finished the year without a grand slam. How many more excuses must Murray be given? His supporters will no doubt argue that he is tired, and in hindsight, he shouldn’t have played all three tournaments in Asia. Out of the top four, Murray played the most matches between the end of the US Open and the start of the ATP Tour Finals. Henman even goes as far to say that whilst he should have played fewer matches, he didn’t expect to win three tournaments in a row as he did. Forgive my ignorance, but surely a player enters a tournament to win and without the competition of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer in all three tournaments, Murray was naturally the big favourite.

It must have further grated Murray’s nerves on the day he withdrew for the end of season final, to watch Federer receive the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award, as voted by the ATP players and also the ATP World Tour Fans’ Favourite Award. This comes despite Murray becoming the unofficial self-appointed spokesman when several players hinted at a possible strike earlier in the year due to scheduling complaints. Federer on the otherhand described such proposed action as “nonsense”.

Federer’s triumph sees him issue a declaration of intent to his two biggest rivals, Djokovic and Nadal, whilst Tsonga’s performance this year has proven he is the biggest challenger to the top three.  After a well-deserved break, Federer will start 2012 with vigour and resolve to win a 17th grand slam. A display of transcendent talent is a given when watching Roger Federer play tennis. He is both an ambassador for his sport and a role model to both young and old. As he enters 2012 in his thirtieth year, one can only wait with sharpened anticipation for the greater heights that he may achieve.

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