Fresh perspective for Federer sets up decisive Anderson duel

 - Alex Sharp

The second stage of the ATP Finals round robin saw world No.1 Novak Djokovic soar into the semi-finals

Roger Federer smiling at the 2018 Rolex Paris Masters©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
Federer salvages hunt for title 100

Six-time champion Roger Federer was forced into some deep thinking following a disastrous opening match defeat by Kei Nishikori. He cancelled practice, recharged and refocused.

“Important was not about my forehand or my backhand or my serve or anything. I guess it was my head. For that sometimes you need a break.”

It certainly worked, the 20-time Grand Slam champion broke Austrian Dominic Thiem four times, without facing a break point himself, to collect a commanding 6-2, 6-3 triumph.

“For me it was really important to remind myself what a thrill it is to play here at the O2. I love playing in London, always have, always will. It is my 16th year qualifying, so sometimes it's just another match. I think that's maybe what happened to me, and in a very disappointing way,” admitted Federer.

“Today, when highlights were showing from the last 10 years here at the O2, I really reminded myself again what a pleasure and what a privilege it is to play in this arena. There's no reason to get that negative. The tournament has only just started.”

Familiar foe Kevin Anderson awaits a revitalised Federer next, with both semi-finals tickets still available from Group Lleyton Hewitt.

The head-to-head favours Federer 4-1, however the South African pulled off an astonishing comeback from two sets and match point down in the Wimbledon quarter-finals.

“I don't think I'll go into the match thinking too much of it. I think I have enough things to focus on from my own side, from my own game, to make sure I play a good match against him here in the next match,” added Federer.

“I'm really excited to get a chance to play him again, he has had a wonderful season. I've played well against him in the past. I hope I can reproduce something like that.”

The earlier contest on Thursday of Nishikori v Thiem will determine the permutations for Anderson and Federer in the evening’s singles play in order to book a semi-final berth. The maths could be complicated, so a straight-sets scoreline will certainly boost any challenge.

“Everything clicked” for Anderson

Nishikori labelled it “one to forget,” but for Anderson it was near perfection.

The ATP Finals debutant seems determined to grasp his chance in London and followed up his straight sets triumph over Thiem to dismantle Nishikori 6-0, 6-1.

“Yeah that’s one of the best matches I’ve ever played. I knew I had to come out here and play my best because Kei is a world class player,” claimed the Wimbledon finalist. “I found my rhythm right at the start and kept the pressure on him throughout the match.”

The duo duelled recently in the Vienna final, which Anderson clinched in straight sets, before Nishikori took the honours 6-4, 6-4 in Paris at the start of the month.

However, the Japanese talisman failed to deal with the serve of Anderson, which included 10 cannonball aces and 82 percent success in points off the first delivery.

“Sometimes it's tough if you have a very dominating set, you often see scorelines that momentum can change and even going up,” reflected Anderson, hailing his mental fortitude for remaining so dominant on court.

“I felt I did a fantastic job throughout really. Even though I had a lead, I felt a sense of urgency throughout which I thought was really important because I wanted to get that win as best that I could.

“You wait the whole year to play a match like this, but to do it here feels fantastic.”

“Mr Bendy” Djokovic downs Zverev

Chasing his first ATP Finals trophy since 2015, Novak Djokovic appears in prime position to rule in London once again.

A clinical 6-4, 6-1 passage past Alexander Zverev left the self-proclaimed perfectionist unsatisfied by his performance, despite advancing to the final four.

“He's No.1 in the world for a reason,” stated Sascha, with Djokovic’s relentless retrieval skills clawing the errors from the German’ artillery.

It took until the ninth game for either player to conjure up break point, with Zverev surrendering two chances. Proving his ‘No.1’ pedigree, Djokovic immediately applied the pressure on return and broke for the first set.

Djokovic ruthlessly dispatched the second set, gifting a measly three points in the final five games, with world No.5 Zverev unable to dismantle the Djokovic defence.

Being able to stretch every sinew of his athletic frame to deny Zverev earned a new nickname for the five-time champion…

"That's a first - 'Mr Bendy'," chuckled the Serbian in his on-court interview. "I am relying on my flexibility a lot. I was fortunate to be surrounded with people who emphasised the importance of stretching and it has paid off."

Cilic remains in the hunt

2016 champion and former world No.1 Andy Murray snuck in courtside on Wednesday evening to catch a glimpse of this contest.

Well, Mr Murray was treated to an enthralling 6-7(2), 6-3, 6-4 battle as Croatia’s leading charge toppled John Isner to open his Group Gustavo Kuerten account.

Isner’s serve is one of the most devastating weapons in tennis, but Cilic broke the American three times in succession from the end of the second set, into the decider, to grasp the momentum.

"I just felt that I got that momentum towards the end of the second set and just started to feel the ball really well. Just on a few occasions, I guessed right," claimed Cilic.

"I just had to stay patient, stay always looking for those chances and be ready for them. I lost my serve at the beginning of the third set, but managed to break back. I definitely played great tennis towards the end."

Djokovic awaits on Friday night, can Cilic raise his level once again to join the world No.1 in Saturday’s semis? Otherwise Zverev or Isner will steal the final four spot.