Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reclaimed Dominance

by Conroy

O2 Arena - ready for tennis
This past week the ATP season was concluded at the O2 Arena in London with the World Tour Finals, which matched the Top 8 players from 2010. The event is little noticed outside of dedicated tennis fans, with almost all of the coverage aired in the United States shown on the specialty Tennis Channel. That's unfortunate, because the event's unique round-robin format guarantees multiple intriguing matches between the world's best tennis players.

To qualify for the World Tour Finals (the latest in a series of names for the year-ending tournament) a player must be ranked within the Top 8 based entirely on results from the current calender year (which coincides with the actual rankings at the end of the year), or be ranked in the Top 20 and win one of the season's grand slams (which is a rare scenario in the Federer-Nadal era). Usually, one or more of the Top 8 are injured and a substitute has to fill in, but this year all of the Top 8 were able to compete, which only upped the anticipation for high caliber play. The qualifiers were, in order:

  1. Rafael Nadal, ESP (sixth straight year) - Group A
  2. Roger Federer, SWI (ninth straight year) - Group B
  3. Novak Djokovic, SER (fourth straight year) - Group A
  4. Andy Murray, UK (third straight year) - Group B
  5. Robin Soderling, SWE (second straight year, but first by direct qualification) - Group B
  6. Tomas Berdych, CZR (first appearance) - Group A
  7. David Ferrer, ESP (second appearance, previously in 2007) - Group B
  8. Andy Roddick, USA (eighth straight year) - Group A
2010 ATP World Tour Finals Competitors
Coming into the week there was no obvious favorite, but that quickly changed. Roger Federer demolished his three opponents from Group B, defeating David Ferrer, Andy Murray, and Robin Soderling in lopsided straight-set matches. He then overwhelmed Novak Djokovic in straight sets in the semi-finals to setup a dream final with Rafael Nadal, who survived a marathon three-set match with Andy Murray in the other semi-final. Federer was very aggressive against Nadal and seized his lone break opportunity to take the first set. One poor Federer service game was enough for Nadal to claim the second set, but the third set was all Federer. The win was his fifth year-end title (equaling the record of Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl) and 66th title overall. By defeating Ferrer, Murray, Soderling, Djokovic, and Nadal, Federer accomplished a notable feat of consecutive victories over players ranked seventh, fifth, fourth, third, and first. And the wins, including the final, were emphatic.

Roger Federer - year-end champion for the fifth time
The run was the culmination of a stretch for Federer in which he won 30 of 33 matches and four of seven tournaments. And two of those losses required herculean efforts from his opponents (Djokovic in the U.S. open semi-finals and Gael Monfils in the Paris Masters semi-finals) to save multiple match points deep in the final set.

Federer's performance hearkens back to the heady period from late 2003 through 2007 where he was completely dominant. Some of his astonishing results during that time are listed below.

The victory over Nadal is also a confirmation that Federer is ready to defend his Australian Open title in January and position himself for a run to take back the Number 1 ranking from the Spaniard. It is also a needed victory in the famous Federer-Nadal rivalry, which I've written about before. The 2010 tennis season belonged to Nadal, but the bookend titles by Federer at the Australian Open and World Tour Finals add to the excitement of what hopefully will be another competitive season.

Whether Federer continues his current momentum into 2011 and adds important achievements to his unequaled career is to be seen, but for one week at least he was back to being the best tennis player in the world.


Roger Federer's career achievements from the 2003 Masters Cup (year-end championship) through the 2007 Masters Cup:
  • an overall match record of 320-24 (0.930 winning percentage);
  • winning 43 of 66 tournaments played (65%);
  • winning 11 grand slams (of 16 played, 69%);
  • a grand slam match record of 99-5 (0.952 winning percentage), including reaching 13 finals and 15 semi-finals;
  • winning 13 Masters-level tournaments (of 36 played, 36%);
  • winning 4 year-end titles (of 5 played, 80%), including 18 of 20 matches (one of the two losses was in a fifth set tie-break in the 2005 final against David Nalbandian); and, 
  • an eye-popping record of 75-10 (0.882) against Top 10 opponents. 


  1. Federer's record against Nadal in grand slams is pretty poor (something like 2 wins against 6 losses). If Nadal's at his best (and not tired like on Sunday) he posses real challenges to Fed on any surface. If they meet again in the Australian Open Final, like they did a couple of years ago, why would the result be any different (i.e. a Nadal win)?

  2. Anonymous,

    You're right that Nadal poses challenges to Federer. As I've written, Nadal just matches up very well with Federer, his strengths aligning with Federer's weaknesses. That said, on non-clay surfaces their play is very competitive and Federer has gotten the better of Nadal 6-4. It also must be noted that Federer served very poorly in the 2009 Australian Open final, which probably cost him the title. In a hypothetical Australian Open final between Federer and Nadal, I would pick Federer assuming he serves well.

    I also like Federer's chances - on any surface - if he is as aggressive as he was in the World Tour Finals. The worst thing you can do with Nadal is engage in frequent long rallies. Federer also served very smartly, taking advantage of Nadal's deep court positioning.

    Clay will always be Nadal's domain, but hardcourts should favor Federer.