Federer trounces Nadal to reach London semis

Roger Federer rated his masterful 6-3, 6-0 demolition of Rafael Nadal at the ATP World Tour Finals as one of the best performances of his life.

Federer trounces Nadal to reach London semis
John Togasaki (File)

Federer has enjoyed many remarkable days during his illustrious career, but even the 16-time Grand Slam champion was surprised by how completely he overwhelmed his old rival at London’s O2 Arena on Tuesday.

The 30-year-old took just an hour to crush Nadal with the kind of imperious display that ranks alongside the very best Federer has ever produced.

Even when Federer had beaten Nadal in the past he has usually been pushed to the limits in the process.

Nadal may have been slightly affected by the illness and injury that has dogged him in recent weeks, but Federer had never beaten the Spaniard by such an emphatic margin before and the dominant manner of the victory made it one of his all-time great performances.

“It’s definitely one of the nice ones, that’s clear. I had some good ones in my lifetime but this one ranks high because it’s against my biggest rival,” Federer said.

“It’s the World Tour Finals, where it really matters. That I’ve been able to come through so convincing is a bit of a surprise to me, but it ranks extremely high.

“Possibly he struggled more early on indoors in only the second match back from five weeks out.

“But to come through so convincingly is great for me because we know Rafa has a certain standard which he does not go below.

“That’s where this victory, still for me, I can rate this extremely high.”

Federer’s struggles against Nadal have been well documented and he went into the Group B encounter on the back of three successive defeats against the Spaniard.

But 12 of Nadal’s 17 wins against Federer have come on his favoured clay and the Swiss star has always fancied his chances more on the quicker hard courts.

Federer — the first player to book his place in this year’s semi-finals — never gave Nadal time to get into a rhythm as his cleverly varied serves and sublime ground-strokes set a daunting tempo that the world number two couldn’t match.

“Of course, it was a great match for me basically from start to finish,” Federer said.

“I was able to do what I was hoping to do; dominate from the baseline, play close to the baseline, serve well, take his time away.

“I was able to do that tonight when it hasn’t always worked. I’ve also felt the power of Rafa in the past, so this is a great match for me.”

Although Federer will finish the year without a Grand Slam title for the first time since 2002 and has slipped to fourth in the rankings, he is determined to prove wrong the critics who have written him off as a player in decline.

And he insists that Nadal never had any kind of mental hold over him despite the Spaniard’s head to head dominance.

“I always knew I could beat Rafa. The question is sometimes it was hard to do because he has a big say, as well, in how the matches go. The quicker the court, the more I favour myself,” Federer said.

“I’m happy I was able to use the conditions to my advantage. Maybe Rafa didn’t play his very best.

“We’ve played so many times, sometimes it just derails for you, like it derailed for Rafa today.

“I don’t know how much it is mental. Once you’re down a set and a double break, you’re not even playing to win anymore, you’re just hoping to stay in the match.

“It’s not the finals, I know that, but it’s still a stepping stone to the finals.

“I’m one match away from that now. I’m very happy to have qualified, because also that pressure is gone.”

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Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?

Roger Federer is talking optimistically about returning to his "highest level" after knee surgery, but does tennis have to start adjusting to a future without the Swiss star?

Is this the end of the road for Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer?
Is it the end of the line for Roger? Photo: Martin BUREAU / AFP

The 20-time Grand Slam winner announced on Wednesday that he would be sidelined until 2021 after his second operation in a matter of months.

Federer remains upbeat, tweeting: “I plan to take the necessary time to be 100 percent ready to play at my highest level.”

In some ways 2020 is a good season to miss after the coronavirus ravaged the tennis schedule. Writing Federer off in the past has proved dangerous.

He returned from a six-month injury lay-off to claim the Australian Open in 2017, winning his eighth Wimbledon crown later that year.

But he will be 40 in 2021 and is now heading into uncharted territory.

Despite his groaning trophy cabinet, there are two factors that will motivate Federer to keep going — the risk of losing his grip on the men's Grand Slam title record and a missing Olympics singles gold medal.

Rafael Nadal has 19 majors, just one shy of Federer's mark and Djokovic has 17.

Spain's Nadal will be fancied to draw level with Federer at the French Open, rescheduled for September, while few would bet against Djokovic winning in New York weeks earlier.

In April, Federer said he was “devastated” when Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II. Last year he fell agonisingly short at the All England Club, failing to convert two championship points on his own serve against Djokovic.

The Wimbledon grass probably remains his best chance of adding to his Grand Slam collection — he has not won the US Open since 2008 and his only title at Roland Garros came in 2009.

Even though Federer has slipped from the very pinnacle of the game, he is still a major threat to Nadal and Djokovic.

'Golden' ambitions

Last year, the world number four had a 53-10 win-loss record and he reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open in January in his only tournament this year.

Federer, who is still six ATP titles short of Jimmy Connors' all-time record of 109, has one glaring omission from his CV — the Olympic title.

The Swiss won doubles gold in Beijing in 2008 with compatriot Stan Wawrinka but lost in the singles final to Andy Murray in London four years later.

The postponed Tokyo Games will almost certainly be Federer's last opportunity to complete a career “golden” Grand Slam — he will turn 40 on the day of the closing ceremony next year.

Tennis will feel the loss of the elegant Federer keenly when he walks off the court for the last time.

Djokovic and Nadal have been the dominant forces in recent years but the Swiss remains the biggest draw and last month topped Forbes' list of the world's highest-earning athletes.

His last appearance on court was in front of nearly 52,000 fans — touted by organisers as a world record for tennis — at a charity match against Nadal in Cape Town in February.

Federer is nearly always the crowd favourite wherever he plays and has proved a perfect ambassador for the sport since he won his first Grand Slam title in 2003.

He certainly expects to be back and competitive next year.

“I will be missing my fans and the tour dearly but I will look forward to seeing everyone back on tour at the start of the 2021 season,” he tweeted.

The avalanche of support from his adoring fans showed they would miss him too, but they will have to get used to a time when he is gone for good.