Federer controls own destiny at Masters Cup

Only at the Masters Cup can someone else’s match be more important than a player’s own match. And that is exactly the case with Gilles Simon heading into the last stage of round-robin play in the red group on Friday.

Here’s the deal: Simon is 1-1 in matches and 2-3 in sets (he beat Roger Federer in three and lost to Andy Murray in two). Federer is 1-1 in matches and 3-2 in sets (he lost to Simon in three and beat Radek Stepanek in two). Stepanek is 0-1 in matches and 0-2 in sets.

With Federer playing Murray and Simon playing Stepanek, three men (actually four since the Masters Cup standings somehow show Stepanek and Andy Roddick as essentially the same person! Stepanek subbed in when Roddick pulled out of the tournament with an ankle injury shortly before his scheduled showdown against Federer) can finish round-robin action with a 1-2 record behind Murray’s 3-0 mark. That would be the case if Murray upends Federer and Stepanek downs Simon.

In that scenario, Stepanek (who is eliminated regardless of the two outcomes) would be out due to the fact that he has played fewer matches than Federer and Simon. Number of matches played is the key tiebreaker and renders replacements almost irrelevant (Roddick played one match, losing to Murray, before his withdrawal). So it would come down to Federer and Simon. Now that it’s no longer a three-way tie (with Stepanek history), Simon would get the semifinal nod over Federer due to his head-to-head victory over the Swiss. So, as we see, Federer is done if he loses to Murray, even if Simon loses to Stepanek.

There’s also a chance three men could finish with a 2-1 record ahead of Stepanek’s (slash Roddick’s) 0-3 clip. That would be the case if Federer takes out Murray and Simon gets past Stepanek. With a three-way tie, a head-to-head ‘breaker is inconceivable since Murray beat Simon, Simon beat Federer, and Federer beat Murray (under this scenario). So it would come down to percentage of sets won. The worst Murray could end up with is winning 4 of 6 sets (if he loses to Federer in straights). The worst Federer could end up with is winning 5 of 8 eights sets (if he beats Murray in three, and remember he MUST beat Murray in for this scenario to be relevant). The best Simon could end up with is winning 4 of 7 sets (if he beats Stepanek in straights). So, as we see, it is impossible for Simon to advance if three men finish 2-1. That means Federer must lose in order for Simon to advance.

If you followed all that, you now know that Simon’s match is absolutely meaningless in determining the semifinalists. It all comes down to Federer and Murray. If Federer wins, he is in and Simon is out. If Federer loses, he is out and Simon is in.

To put it in simple terms: Simon could win 6-0, 6-0 and still be out. He could lose 6-0, 6-0 and still be in!

Got it?