by Ahmed Ibrahim
Round Robin formats often lead us down the path of making those calculations of who needs what results to qualify. Thankfully, Thursday’s Group B matches were a rather simple affair: The ”dead rubber” and the “last chance saloon” match.
Mardy Fish, already eliminated from qualifying, faced an in-form Roger Federer while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Rafael Nadal battled it out to fill the second qualifying spot of Group B.
Roger Federer picked up where he left off against Rafael Nadal on Tuesday night, with a 6-1 3-6 6-3 win over Mardy Fish. Early indications suggested that we were headed for another early-finishing match as Federer took the first set in 32 minutes. Breaking Fish in the second game Federer was immediately broken back. He broke Fish twice more to lead 5-1 and served out the first set from being down 0-40 after.
The crowd began to get behind Mardy Fish and he rallied from this to step up his game and broke Federer to lead 3-1 in the second set. Holding serve well as the unforced errors began to creep into Federer’s game Fish held on to take the second set. A third set was what the crowd wanted and Fish prolonged his stay at the O2 Arena.
Losing the second game in the third set Federer held to love to lead 3-0 and was upping the stakes and playing more aggressively, yet was too strong in the end for Fish.
It is good to see Fish bow out with a good fight though with three losses he will feel like he could have had a much better tournament especially after pushing Nadal to the wire on Sunday night. It goes without saying that not many first time ATP World Tour Finalists have taken sets off the former world number 1’s and to do that with both in the same group is a great result.
Whether or not we will see Fish back at the ATP World Tour Finals in years to come, or even next year, is a big question but there is no denying that Fish has had a great year and he thoroughly deserved to be here in London for his first ATP World Tour Finals.
Evidently for Federer his game was not entirely on par with that on Tuesday in his match against Nadal. Obviously not having the pressure of winning to qualify resting on his shoulders allowed to him to be a little bit more relaxed but stay focussed at being aware that Fish would want to walk off court on a high note.
The second match between 2010 finalist Rafael Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was a simple win-to-qualify match. This one went all the way to three sets in a 2 hours and 42 minute battle that threatened to leave spectators stranded if they did not catch the final trains from the O2 Arena on time.
Tsonga’s game plan was evident from the start: be aggressive, keep Rafa moving and pick the right moment to execute a winner. This worked well for Tsonga as he produced some fine displays of tennis in all parts of the court. From dictating play from the baseline he unleashed numerous crosscourt backhand winners that left the crowd gasping in awe. His net play was spot on and his dropshots were something out of a textbook.
Rafael Nadal, on the other hand, was looking to forget the beating he took at the hands of Roger Federer on Tuesday night and came out fighting hard. The crowd was pumped up to see a big battle between these two.
Going to a tie-break in the first set it was Tsonga who was too strong for Nadal with a comfortable 7-2 win in that set.
Nadal needed something big in the second set and yet did not appear to pick up the aggressiveness. Tsonga’s service rate dropped to 41 per cent in the second set and Nadal managed to shift the momentum in his favour as Tsonga’s unforced error count started to creep up with his winners count.
Serving to stay in the second set Tsonga played an awful game and his own mental toughness beat him again in a similar fashion to his match against Federer on Sunday.
Nadal failed to seize the momentum as Tsonga raced ahead to lead 5-2 before double-faulting to serve for the match. Stepping it up and going all out aggressive on the Nadal serve landed him up 0-30, a netcord sent the ball out to set up triple match point. Tsonga unleashed a monster cross-court forehand return winner that sealed his qualification into the Semi-Finals alongside Roger Federer.
Clearly, Nadal has not had a great year by his standards, admitting that in press, but his year is still not over as he will compete in the Finals of the Davis Cup in Seville against Argentina. Tsonga’s great year continues having beaten both Nadal and Federer on the grass courts of Queen’s and Wimbledon – can he go all the way in the O2?
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_