By Ros Satar
- Roger Federer def. Kei Nishikori 7-5 4-6 6-4
- Bob & Mike Bryan def. Jamie Murray & John Peers 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 6-4
- Novak Djokovic def. Tomas Berdych 6-3 7-5
LONDON, UK – Roger Federer cemented his place at the top of Group Stan Smith, while Novak Djokovic finished second at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
Roger Federer def. Kei Nishikori 7-5 4-6 6-4
Secure in the knowledge that he will end up at the top of the group, it would be interesting to see just how Federer approached this match. With a closer than usual head to head against Kei Nishikori, this had the hallmarks of being a good match.
Indeed it looked as though the World No. 3 was going for a quick finish, in tome for afternoon tea breaking Nishikori in the fourth game, but they have a tight head to head for a reason, with the Japanese player getting the immediate break back.
A couple of games later he repeated the feat, this time forcing Federer to strike back straight away, with some very high quality exchanges. From that point Federer just looked a little sharper, breaking to edge the first set.
As has often been the way, certainly this tournament, the momentum stays with the early victor, and the opponent drops away quiet alarmingly. Nishikori found himself battling hard while Federer hit cruise control, swiftly leaping out to a 4-1 lead in the second set.
Not that you would expect Federer to do defending champion Novak Djokovic any favours (a straight sets win means that Djokovic just needs a single set to go through) but certainly his commanding lead over the Japanese player was nibbled away with Nishikori nabbing the second set.
The pressure on him did not stop there, forcing Federer to save three break points early in the decider, but despite some blistering shots from Nishikori, first to draw blood was Federer after a long struggle.
It looked as though things were unraveling with a 1-4 deficit but Nishikori pulled away again winning three more games before Federer edged him out to win the match.
Afterwards he spoke about the format and about knowing it had been decided before he went in to the match.
He said: “The good thing is that I was through. It relaxes your nerves. The good thing is I’ve been in this position before so I know how to handle it. I always mention the first time it happened to me in 2002, was the first time I ever qualified. I was also qualified after two matches. Agassi had pulled out. Johansson came in. I was totally out of sorts. I was like, Oh, God, there’s so much points on the line, don’t want to lose. Anyway, I ended up playing all right. But mentally I was just spinning.”
Sadly Nishikori misses out on defending his semi-final points from last year, and perhaps will rue such a slow start against Djokovic in the first match.
He said: “I thought I was playing very good. Especially return, I was making lot of returns. Second serve, I think I was attacking really well. I think that’s why I able to broke that much. But each set I didn’t start well. I think every one he broke first and I was kind of defense all the time. That was my big mistake that I did today. I mean, in end really close game. I think just couple points that I didn’t play quite well enough. But, yeah, it is a shame to lose like this.”
Bob & Mike Bryan def. Jamie Murray/John Peers 6-7(5) 7-6(5) 16-14
If you have to have a swansong, then being one pairing who deliver one of the best doubles matches of the tournament, before bowing out in a thrilling Match Tie-Break 16-9!
But that was not the entire tale of the tape as it was Murray & Peers who made all the running. The Bryans have not really been firing on all cylinders since Montreal, and having parted ways briefly while Bob’s newest child came into the world, they looked at times to be a little rusty.
They rallied after finding themselves 1-4 down admirably, breaking the Brit and the Aussie to force a tie-break. Just one mini-break to Murray & Peers was enough got them to keep the lead and take the first set.
The second set was more evenly matched – with no breaks points on anyone’s serve, much less any to-ing and fro-ing of breaks, but they made up for that in the second set tie-break with the momentum swinging from Murray/Peers being two points away from the win, to relinquishing the second set.
The fourth seeds were in control in the Match Tie-break, with four match points, duly squandered as the Bryans reeled off five points in a row to have a first match point of their own. Once more it was within grasp for Murray and Peers at 11-10 and there were some breathtaking rallies between arguably two of the best doubles teams in the world.
Alas, Peers became the target for the Bryans, and although he salvaged one miss, it was a sad end to the partnership as a couple of wild shots from Peers signaled the end of their bid for the semi-final and also for their shot at finishing as the No. 1 doubles pairing.
Murray said: “We had lot of success this year, especially the first year we played as well. Yeah, it’s been a long journey for us. I think we started around 80 in the world together and finishing up in the top 10, qualifying for the end-of-year Masters here. Lots of great experiences, Grand Slam finals, won a few tournaments as well. It’s been great. Now we’re ready to move on to other things. Hopefully we can keep the success we’ve had this year.
Peers echoed those sentiments: “We’ve done a lot of great things. We can’t pinpoint this little moment, but we’re going to look at the whole picture and say we’ve had a great journey together and ready to look forward.”
Novak Djokovic def. Tomas Berdych 6-3 7-5
With such a dominant head to head over the Czech, it was no surprise to see a swift break at the start of the match, but the real question would be how much resistance would Berdych be able to throw up?
He would go on to break straight back but was immediately put back under pressure as Djokovic pushed away at Berdych, forcing him to save three break points. The Czech held firm until the end of the set, again battling hard to hold on to his serve, allowing Djokovic to serve out the first set.
Djokovic needed just that set to face Group winner Rafael Nadal in Saturday’s semi-finals as the early initiative he had with a break right at the start of the second set was erased as the quality of Berdych’s returning improved.
Neither were giving an inch on serve, but the first cracks appeared for Berdych, with a decisive break to serve for the match, having made some heavy weather of it in the mean time.
It was enough for him to take the match, leaving Berdych on the wrong end of a 0/3 record this tournament.
Djokovic admitted that perhaps it had been a battle for both of them, saying: “He found a way to play better, aggressive, more efficient and tactically smart. I think today we played two close sets. We both could have done better.
“But, again, we both had a long season and we tried our best. Best changes day-to-day. But I’ve played him so many times, I think the last couple months he raised his level and managed to play some better tennis.”
He admitted that Nadal’s level and confidence has been plain to see since the US Open, and added: “I’ve played him so many times on different surfaces, two or three on this very court. Hopefully I’ll be able to perform my best, that’s what’s needed to compete against him.”
The final semi-final places will be decided on Friday, when Group winner Nadal faces Ferrer not before 2pm and Andy Murray faces Stan Wawrinka in the evening match, not before 8pm (all times GMT).
Main Image Credit: Julian Finney/Getty
FOLLOW BRITWATCH – SPORTS IN GENERAL, BRITS IN PARTICULAR!