I guess that was worth the wait. After six days of rather ho-hum, uninspiring tennis, today we finally had some serious drama on semifinal day at ATP Finals in London.
First up was Novak Djokovic against Kei Nishikori in rematch of their US Open semifinal won by the Japanese. This time, with air temperature decidedly cooler – heck, it’s indoors in November! – Djokovic jumped out early and led with a break in the second. But after some crowd interference stunted Djokovic’s momentum, Nishikori came to life and seized the second set.
Djokovic shook off his first set lost, regrouped in the third and ran away with the match 6-1, 3-6, 6-0 to reach his third straight final at the event.
It wasn’t his best match – and a guy like Novak should never let the crowd get in his head – but Djokovic got the job done in the end over a feisty Nishikori.
“The first and third (sets) went the way I wanted,” said Djokovic. “In the second, I had the break, then I lost concentration. He was the better player. He started making shots that he wasn’t making in the first set.
“He’s one of the quickest, most talented players in the world right now. He won many titles, many matches this year. That’s why he’s very dangerous on any surface. He plays very fast. If you start to hesitate with your shots, he puts a lot of pressure on your serve. It wasn’t an easy match.
“I was fortunate because in the beginning of the third set, he had break points. If he broke me, the match could have gone either way. I managed to find that little bit of strength and get a win today. Tomorrow is the last match of the season. Of course it’s one of the biggest tournaments in the world. This is already the biggest possible motivation. I will try to give everything I have.”
Up next was one of the best finishes to a match this year. Roger Federer had dominated his buddy Stan Wawrinka winning 14 of 16, but Stan had taken a set in their last four beating Roger in the Monte Carlo final, so there was some hope in this. That said, after a so-so RR stage, Stan wasn’t thought to be much a threat against a very hot and in-form Federer.
That was until the ball dropped.
Stan came out playing the better tennis, bullying a flat-footed Federer by taking the first set. With his back against the wall and hopes slipping, Federer managed to find some cracks to sneak out the second. But just when it looked like things were going his way, an early umpire overrule threw off Federer giving Stan an early break in the finale.
But serving for the match
5-35-4, Stan held three matchpoints in total that game but couldn’t close it out. Some ill-timed shots and dreadful volleys helped Federer break back and eventually the match tensely moved into a final breaker.
Roger jumped out early 3-1 and led again at 5-3. Stan, though, kept fighting back and eventually he held another matchpoint at 6-5. That would be the last point Stan would win as Federer won the last three to close it out in 2 hours,
28 48 minutes.
“I thought it was a very exciting match, to say the least,”: Federer said. “I think the crowd got really into it. “I really didn’t think I was going to turn it around anymore because Stan looked very good for a long time, was able to win the second set somehow by hanging around. Then in the third, I think he played very well. Maybe a serve let him go a little bit when he needed it the most.
“I was frustrated being down in the third,” he added. “I clearly got lucky tonight. There’s no doubt about that. But you’ve got to keep believing that maybe there is a slight chance that you are going to be able to turn it around somehow. It happened today. I’m very pleased. It’s very hard, obviously, against Stan.”
With the lead, with the matchpoints, Stan should have won that match. Federer had no business winning it. But falling to his pal Federer with a Davis Cup tie next weekend, I doubt the sting of the loss will last long.
“For sure that game at the end I was nervous,” said Wawrinka. “It was not easy to play from the baseline. He was normally just pushing his slice backhand return. I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to try to take it, try not to wait for a mistake, try to go for it.’
“I think there were only few points that made the difference. I was playing great tennis. [I was] really happy with the way I was playing. But I had some big opportunities in the third set. I should have taken them, especially serving for the match with two match points.”
So our final is set and it’s a good one.
Roger Federer v Novak Djokovic
The two best players in the world collide for a 37th time Sunday. Federer leads 19-17 and the two have split their last six. Federer also has the history of having won the title six times to Djokovic’s three.
But Djokovic’s just the better player right now. He’s No. 1, he’s won the title the last two years and, by the way, he’s six years the junior to Federer. And honestly after such a tough, physical match against Wawrinka I don’t how much Roger will have left for Novak.
Novak’s won 31 straight matches indoors and also 14 in a row at the Finals. I know Roger beat him last month in Shanghai, but this is Novak’s last match of the season, and he won’t want to end the year with a loss.
“Knowing just that tomorrow is the last match of the season,” said Djokovic. “I’m sure that I will find any necessary drop of strength, mental and physical, to give it on the court.”
Federer will need to serve well, minimize those errors we saw today, and there were a bunch. For Djokovic, I always like to see how he’s hitting the backhand-down-the-line – can he do it or does he not have the confidence? And the serve will be important as well.
The pick: Djokovic in two
ESPN2 has the live coverage at 1pm ET.
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