by Ahmed Ibrahim
Keep it simple, finish it quick. Words that were heard in the O2 Arena as Roger Federer got his title defense underway by disposing of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-2 2-6 6-4 in 89 minutes at the ATP World Tour Finals on Sunday.
With Federer in a bullish mood he wasted no time in winning the first set 6-2 in 21 minutes. Blink and you missed him. He kept it simple and finished points quick by having Tsonga on the run from the word “Go!” He pushed him all over the court dictating play from the baseline, hitting winners and forcing Tsonga to make errors for fun.
Perhaps Tsonga was feeling the pressure of playing in the immense arena in front of 16,000 fans. Or perhaps it was the giant in Roger Federer that made him succumb once again, as the two had battled just seven days prior on Tsonga’s home turf in Paris. Whatever it was, Tsonga clearly had not started the engine properly as he was cruising along in neutral, barely getting by at times.
When Tsonga finally got the motor working in the second set, it was as if another player had been tagged in to take on Federer for what the crowd witnessed was a complete turnaround in events. Tsonga managed to break Federer at 2-1 when Roger began hitting makeable balls long and wide. This swung the momentum towards Tsonga and he began unleashing a barrage of serves and groundstrokes that turned to gold and he was rewarded with the second set at 6-2.
The third set saw a much more hungry Federer willing to stop the juggernaut of Tsonga gaining further momentum. Federer started to find his groundstrokes that had eluded him during that second set. Even with Tsonga returning deep and with pace, Federer was able to make those minute adjustment steps that he lacked earlier to throw Tsonga off guard and take back some initiative. Federer’s dividends were paid when Tsonga had to serve at 4-5 and quickly found himself at 0-30 after hitting a simple backhand volley into the net followed by a double-fault. Federer unleashed a trademark inside-in winner that landed perfectly and it was all over two points later.
Tsonga will naturally be disappointed having lost the match after a turnaround of events that looked like he was on-course to put a spanner in the works of Federer’s title defense. A frustrating player to watch at times, Tsonga can really impress and please a crowd with his athleticism and shot making but he can also infuriate with his almost careless mindset in the way he over-hits manageable shots.
Federer’s game started very well, almost the ideal start, but he is still prone to lose focus and let his opponent creep back into the game under the radar, especially when his forehands and backhands start missing the most routine of strokes. And it is these sudden momentum swings that he does not always control very well. His Wimbledon match against Tsonga this year is a prime example of this. He was not playing in top gear here either, perhaps in part as a masterplan to pace himself and be ready for the other challenges in Rafael Nadal and Mardy Fish. If anything, he was lucky to walk away with the win here. The match was far from simple, but exhibited some of the trademark shots fan have come to expect from Federer. But will it be enough to re-claim the title? Only time will tell.
Ahmed Ibrahim is the author of the website Tennis Addict. He is in London covering the ATP World Tour Finals as a guest contributor for Tennis Grandstand. Follow his ATP World Tour Finals updates on his personal twitter@TennisAddict_