Fittingly the top two players in the world will do battle for the final title of the 2012 ATP season. World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Roger Federer reached the championship match at the ATP finals on the heels of impressive Sunday wins. But early on it looked like neither would make it to Monday.
Djokovic found himself down a set to the hot-handed Juan Martin Del Potro who was zoned-in and blistering winners. With the match in the balance early in the second set, Djokovic hung in there just enough to gain the upper hand and then coast in the third set over a tiring Argentine 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
“I was aware that the key for me would be to try to get as many returns back in the court and get into the rally,” said Djokovic. “I wasn’t managing to do so, especially the end of the first set, beginning of the second. I dropped with my first serve percentage, made a lot of unforced errors. He used it. He was the better player at that time. I believed that I could come back. I believed that I could turn this match around in my favor, and I’ve done so. I’ve played from that moment on, when I got the break back, very flawless tennis.”
Del Potro really dominated early on and the way he was playing it didn’t look promising for the Serb in his bid for a second ATP Finals crown.
“Nole improved his game, basically, between the middle of the second set until the end of the match,” said Del Potro. “He deserved to win today. I think I played really good in the first two sets. If you don’t play whole match [at] your best level, it’s really difficult to beat him. I had the chance to win today when I was break up in the second, but I didn’t serve like yesterday and I didn’t serve like my first set today. Nole was returning really well.”
Even in defeat it’s great to see Del Potro playing top quality tennis. If he can remain injury free and keep on this course, a year from now it’s very possible he could be competing for the No. 1 ranking. It’s really up to his body because the game and head as we saw today are clearly there.
“I beat Roger yesterday. I was close to beating Nole today. In the end, they are too good for me, but I’m getting closer every day,” Del Potro said. “Maybe it could be my big challenge for next year, my big goal, trying to fight at all Grand Slams with this group. They win all the Grand Slams: Novak, Federer, Rafa and now Murray. I would like to be part of those names in the Grand Slams.”
In the main event, it was a similar story, just accelerated. Andy Murray jumped all over Federer to start the match, racing out to what appeared to be an insurmountable 4-2 first set lead. For the first 30 minutes or so, Murray was far and away the better player. The Scot was dominating on serve and from the ground. Federer was in trouble.
But, as he often does, after taking Murray’s best shot Federer got up off the mat, made some adjustments and stunningly dominated the rest of the match to win 7-6, 6-2.
“I started the match off very well,” Murray said. “I was going for my shots a lot. I was playing very aggressive on the return. Then he started to serve a little bit better. I missed a few more returns. Then, when he got the break back, he started to play better. I hung on a little bit the end of the first set.”
Murray had owned Federer of late winning their last five sets all rather routinely since Roger got him at Wimbledon. But that run crashed down today.
“Of course, I was looking at having lost the last two matches against him, so I thought it was up to me to change things around really and come up with a game plan that maybe was different than at the Olympics or Shanghai,” said Federer. “The pressure was really on me. I’m happy with what I chose with my coaching staff today. Obviously the tournament’s not over yet, I want to keep on playing well, but I’m happy that the offensive play did pay off and it gives confidence doing more like that in the upcoming match tomorrow.”
Murray’s season ends having lost four of his last seven matches. His two titles since Wimbledon were big ones though – the Olympics and the US Open – and despite a sub-par finish he’ll gladly take it!
“I would have liked to have finished with a win. But that didn’t happen,” Murray said. “But for me, it’s been the best year of my career by a mile. So why I would look back on that negatively now would be silly because I’ve achieved things I’ve never achieved before. I have to look back on it positively. If I don’t, then that would be worrying.”
So tomorrow it’s Djokovic v. Federer, the two best players in the sport in a best-of-3 set final played in near perfect conditions on an indoor medium paced court. Talk about a tough pick here, there’s not much to choose between them.
Thus far Djokovic hasn’t dropped a match this week, but he has gone through rough patches. Federer did lose to Del Potro and probably should have dropped the first set today to Murray. And he’s had his issues with sloppy play. But the Swiss usually rises up, as we saw late in the first set today, to meet his chief rivals, and Djokovic is among them.
“It’s exciting, no doubt about it. I love playing against Novak,” said Federer. “He’s had a great year. He’s had a great tournament so far… It is a big opportunity playing sort of the last match of the season, and facing off against Novak obviously is always special, especially here at the World Tour Finals.”
Head-to-head, it’s Federer with a decided 16-12 edge including wins in their last two meetings this year at Wimbledon and at Cincinnati. Djokovic, however, had won six of seven entering that Wimbledon match.
Based on quality of play Djokovic has been the better guy this week and really all this fall. Djokovic has won 14 of his last 15 matches, losing just a suspect clash with Sam Querrey. And since Wimbledon and including this week, he’s now been to the finals of six of seven events, winning three. That’s some very strong consistency on hardcourts!
Federer of course has ruled over this event winning it the last two years compiling a very impressive 13-1 mark now in three trips. And today Roger really gave Murray a thorough whipping.
For me the key will be how well Djokovic serves. If he serves well he should win. If he doesn’t he’ll be in trouble. It’s that simple. I think Novak can get a handle on Federer’s serve and off the ground it’s a slight edge to the Serb. Roger obviously gets the big advantage in experience and he’s been so tough to beat at this tournament, but I just think it’s Djokovic’s time. Federer was the man, now Djokovic is the man. And the man usually wins. In a real toss-up finale, i’ll lean…
The pick: Djokovic in three.
ESPN2 has live coverage of the singles final starting at 3pm ET. Happy Veterans Day to all the military personnel out there. Thanks for all you do.
MONDAY ATP FINALS SCHEDULE
CENTRE COURT Start 6:00 pm
 Mahesh Bhupathi (IND)/Rohan Bopanna (IND) v  Marcel Granollers (ESP)/Marc Lopez (ESP)
Not Before 8:00 PM
 Novak Djokovic (SRB) v  Roger Federer (SUI)
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