Friday, November 17, 2017

Roger Federer Says No. 1 is ‘Ultimate Achievement, But Not Realistic’

It's no secret that the resurgence of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has stolen the headlines on the ATP World Tour this year. Big title after big title was theirs to seize and the duo would be rewarded with the top two spots in the year-end Emirates ATP Rankings.

While Nadal will finish the season ahead of Federer at No. 1, the battle for the top position is far from finished. Should the Swiss lift the trophy at this week's Nitto ATP Finals, the gap between the two legends would be a mere 140 points in the Emirates ATP Rankings, as the calendar flips to 2018. That is, just 140 points that separate Federer from adding to his record 302 weeks at World No. 1.

The top spot is within reach, but while the Swiss admits it would be an incredible achievement, he is staying realistic.

"It is interesting," Federer said following a three-set win over Marin Cilic to close out a perfect run through Group Boris Becker. "It's the ultimate achievement in tennis. It always has been for me. But at this age, it just can't be because I think I'll make mistakes if I start chasing it.

"I'm not sure how much the body allows me to chase goals like this. Maybe if I start thinking about it too often and too much, I think I'm maybe also not playing the way I'm supposed to be playing, maybe I tense up, maybe I'm nervous, maybe that's not good for my back. Who knows what it is.

"I have 2,000 points to defend in Australia, [Nadal] doesn't. So there's the problem already. I know he has a lot of points to defend, too, in Australia, but not as many as me. That's why I always said, look, it's not a realistic goal in some ways. I still need to win this tournament before it's actually really close. The year played out the way it did and Rafa was better. He deserves to be there. I'm really happy for him because he had a rough season as well in '16. It's great for him."

Nadal might have had a better season, as Federer admits, but at age 36, the Swiss has enjoyed a renaissance of his own. The Comeback Player of the Year in the 2017 ATP World Tour Awards Presented By Moët & Chandon, he rebounded brilliantly after concluding his 2016 campaign at No. 16 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, due to injury.

In an effort to minimize fatigue and strain on his body, Federer managed his schedule to perfection. He has suffered just four defeats from 56 matches, two of which came after holding match points. While the Basel native laments those losses to Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai and Tommy Haas in Stuttgart, he says there are no regrets following such a successful campaign.

"Regrets, I don't have any," Federer added. "But maybe losing to Haas and Donskoy ended up haunting me. I had match points in both matches. It's not like I didn't try. If I miss out because of that for World No. 1, then maybe I was unlucky. But I also did win matches in Miami, saving match points against Berdych, other matches throughout the season that could have been gone either way as well. In Australia, it was Nishikori. You name it. Things could have turned very quickly much earlier.

"So I'm just happy I'm playing a great season. I'm so happy that I was able to reach this level of play and still being able to play also at the end of the year. It wasn't just one tournament at the beginning, then nothing after that. So it was throughout that I've had a great year."

Federer reached the 95-title milestone in a season that saw him lift seven trophies, including a pair of Grand Slam victories at the Australian Open and Wimbledon, as well as ATP World Tour Masters 1000 crowns in Indian Wells, Miami and Shanghai. With an unprecedented seventh title at the Nitto ATP Finals just two wins away, Federer believes there is plenty to be grateful for.

"I totally over-exceeded my expectations. I'm just happy I'm injury-free and healthy right now and still enjoying myself. In Australia, I hope to be fit again, to walk out on Rod Laver Arena and hopefully defend my title. But we're still very far away at this point."

But before Federer turns his attention to 2018, he has one last matter of business to attend to in London. The Swiss will next face the winner of Friday's round-robin clash between Dominic Thiem and David Goffin, with a spot in the final at stake.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Roger Federer undefeated at ATP World Tour Finals

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Roger Federer won't finish 2017 as the year-end No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. But the second seed has put himself in great position to still finish his fairytale comeback season with a perfect ending.

The 36-year-old Swiss won his third consecutive match at the Nitto ATP Finals on Thursday, dismissing fifth seed Marin Cilic 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-1 to finish Group Boris Becker play 3-0. It's the 10th time Federer has ended group play unbeaten, and he'll head to Saturday's semi-final full of belief, not that he has been lacking.

The six-time Nitto ATP Finals champion has reeled off 13 consecutive wins, including eight indoors, dating back to his Swiss Indoors Basel title run. This weekend, he'll be the favourite to win his seventh Nitto ATP Finals title and his eighth crown of the season.

Alexander Zverev and Jack Sock will play for second place in Group Boris Becker on Thursday night. In Group Pete Sampras, first-time semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov has won the group, and David Goffin and Dominic Thiem will play for second place on Friday afternoon.

Federer leads his FedEx ATP Head2Head series against Goffin 6-0, but the Swiss trails Thiem in their rivalry 1-2, although all three matches took place last year.

“I played very well so really happy to be playing at this level right now,” Federer said on court after his 55th Nitto ATP Finals win.

CIlic had lost his first two matches and had no chance of making the semi-finals. But with the pressure off, the Croatian played his best tennis of the week to start the match.

He saved all four break points and didn't wait for Federer to misstep in the first set tie-break. Cilic smashed a forehand winner crosscourt, his 20th winner of the set, to take the opener and snap a six-set losing streak against the Swiss.

The second set had been more of the same as Cilic stepped up to serve at 4-5. But at 15/40, he lobbed an 84 mph second serve to Federer, who ran around it and crushed a 100 mph forehand winner to even the match. Federer rolled from there, breaking Cilic in the second and sixth games to advance.

“It wasn't easy. I mean, look, it's a fast court. It's indoors. We've seen it now: when you miss a few too many opportunities, you can really pay the price at this tournament. So we've seen some swings of momentum in a lot of the matches this week,” Federer said.

“I think in the beginning I was slightly overaggressive in the first set on some crucial points rather than maybe being patient. I was able to turn that around late in the second set. Then just had a much better feeling in the third set.

“Maybe also Marin's level dropped, I'm not sure. But definitely was dangerous there for a while.”

Cilic fell to 1-8 during his three appearances at the Nitto ATP Finals. All three of his matches this week lasted three sets.

“Even though it's three losses, I felt that my tennis wasn't too far off of playing really, really well. Good positives at least in that. Hopefully I'm going to recover good and start a new season on a good level,” he said.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Is Roger Federer really the GOAT? Martina Hingis proves the latest greatness isn't always the best

Tennis obsessives love to debate who the sport's "greatest of all time" is. Rod Laver still has his partisans, but at this point such fans are widely considered sentimentalists. Conventional wisdom now has it that whoever is the dominant player of the moment is the "GOAT." Players from each new generation, goes the thinking, are always bigger, faster and ever-more dedicated to excellence than the last. Tennis aficionado RICHARD WIENER, however, argues that such thinking is all wrong. The greats, he says, would be great in any generation. His example in a guest column here: Martina Hingis. Back at the turn of the century, the injury-prone "Swiss Miss" was believed to be too small to continue in the upper echelons of the game. Hingis ultimately proved such thinking wrong, with successful comebacks in both singles and doubles. Read Wiener's column below. - Douglas Perry

One of the most enduring articles of faith among sports fans is that pro athletes just keep getting better and better. Pete Sampras, the great tennis champion of the 1990s, recently articulated this view for his sport, saying: "Each generation of athletes gets stronger and faster, and the players are adding to their knowledge of the game, and as a result you see the level of tennis going up and up. Everyone keeps on improving - today's players are tremendous athletes and hit the ball incredibly hard." This is a belief that's only reinforced by YouTube videos of tennis matches over the past 50 years - the speed of today's game looks faster than ever, because ... it is!

But despite the ever increasing pace of play, the curious case of Martina Hingis demonstrates it's just a myth that each generation is better than the previous.

Hingis, the current number one ranked women's doubles player, announced her retirement a few weeks ago, saying, "You want to stop on top and not when you're already going backward."

At age 15 Hingis became the youngest woman to win a doubles title at Wimbledon, and at age 37 one of the oldest to win doubles at the U.S. Open. In between these remarkable bookends, she won more than 100 titles in singles and doubles. In the course of a spectacular career, Hingis managed five major singles titles, 13 major doubles titles, and seven Grand Slam mixed doubles titles. She won a calendar year Grand Slam in doubles, and in 1998 simultaneously held the number one ranking in both singles and doubles. Hingis even matched up well against the mighty Serena Williams, with a head-to-head singles record of six wins and seven losses.

Even though Hingis turned pro 23 years ago, she only played on tour for 14 years, making the number of titles she won all the more impressive. As a teenager she rose to the top of women's tennis, and then retired at the age of 22 due to injuries. Four years later Hingis briefly came out of retirement, climbed back to number six in singles, and then retired abruptly a second time after testing positive for cocaine. 

After five additional years off tour, long enough to be elected to the Hall of Fame, Hingis unretired again, but this time as a doubles-only player. Remarkably, in her mid-thirties and after an extended leave from pro tennis, she nonetheless quickly rose to number one and dominated women's doubles. Hingis and her partner Sania Mirza went on a 41-match winning streak, which included titles at Wimbledon and the U.S. and Australian Opens. After splitting with Mirza, Hingis dropped from number one but remained in the top 10. Then she teamed with Latisha Chan and went on another tear, winning nine tournaments in 2017, including the U.S. Open, once again regaining the number-one ranking in doubles, only to retire for a third time.

If athletes are stronger and faster and just keep improving, as Sampras says, how did Hingis manage to "time travel" from the 1990s into the present decade and still remain well above a whole new crop of younger, more powerful, and supposedly better players than the ones she faced two decades ago?

Martina's latest accomplishments are even more striking considering that, unlike on the men's side of the game, the top women's singles players routinely play doubles too. Hingis and Mirza defeated Garbine Muguruza (a two-time singles champion at Grand Slam events) and Carla Suarez Navarro (ranked in the top 10 in singles at her highest) to win the title at the 2015 year-end WTA Finals. Plus, tactics in women's doubles have changed since the 1990s. 

Back then, doubles players served and volleyed. In the current era of power tennis, the return of serve is too strong to follow serve to net. So the one-up, one-back formation, common in recreational tennis, is now the primary formation in the women's pro game. But regardless of style of play, Hingis has proven herself the best doubles player in the world. She can more than hold her own from the baseline against huge hitters like Muguruza and still play a magical finesse game at the net with superb use of angle, spin and placement.

Here's an alternative hypothesis. The game isn't faster because players are better. It's faster because equipment is improving, which allows players to hit harder and look like they've taken the game to a whole new level. Put the latest in racquet and string technology in the hands of a great player from the past, something that usually can't happen, and he or she is still a great player. Hingis is that rare case of a champion from 20 years ago coming out of extended retirement to show what she can still do. 

Lo and behold the radar gun now clocks some of Martina's serves over 100 mph, a speed she almost never attained in the 1990s. Her service motion is unchanged, which suggests it's the racquet not the player responsible for extra pop on the ball. And how does Hingis deal with rockets off the racquets of big hitters? Back at them, no problem. A few dozen more trophies on the shelf and it's time to end the experiment on intergenerational play with Martina still on top!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Roger Federer passes Zvarev test to reach his 14th ATP World Tour Finals semi

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Big forehands make for great highlights and aces for quick games, but variety might be the key to success on the ATP World Tour, and Roger Federer showed a plethora of it on Tuesday night during his 7-6(6), 5-7, 6-1 win against Alexander Zverev at the Nitto ATP Finals.

Federer moved the 6'6” Zverev around the court with drop shots and slices. But the six-time champion was also happy to flatten out his groundstrokes against the 20-year-old right-hander, who had beaten Federer during their only prior hard-court matchup.

Now, after a 2-0 start in London, the 36-year-old Federer is into the semi-finals for the 14th time in his 15th appearance at the Nitto ATP Finals.

“I'm extremely happy... It's been a tough group so to be there in two matches is great,” Federer said.

His win clears up the Group Boris Becker qualification scenarios as well. Marin Cilic, who lost to Jack Sock on Tuesday to fall to 0-2, is eliminated.

The winner of Thursday's Sock vs. Zverev matchup will join Federer in the semi-finals. Sock and Zverev are tied 1-1 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head rivalry.

Federer has now won 12 consecutive matches, dating back to his title runs at the Shanghai Rolex Masters (d. Nadal) and the Swiss Indoors Basel (d. del Potro). That streak includes seven indoor victories, including his Nitto ATP Finals opener against Sock.

But Tuesday's must-see generational showdown was a toss-up at the start. Federer and Zverev had split their four FedEx ATP Head2Head meetings, and Zverev had beaten Federer on the hard courts of Montreal during the Coupe Rogers final. The German became the only player to beat him in a final this season and only the fourth player to beat him at all this year.

The third-seeded Zverev, who's making his Nitto ATP Finals debut this week, started strong as well. He had three break points in Federer's opening service game, but Federer saved all three, reeling off five consecutive points. The Swiss would save 9/11 break points for the match.

They blitzed through the opener from there, with six games held to love or 15, until Zverev had to erase two set points at 5-6. In the tie-break, Federer won eight of the final 10 points to take the first set.

Zverev didn't fade, though. He broke Federer for the second time at 5-6 in the second set and evened the match. But the Swiss right-hander outplayed Zverev in the decider, breaking three times and saving the only break point he faced.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Roger Federer aka "Kilterer" having some fun with Andy Murray for Glasgow charity event

Roger Federer donned a kilt as he beat a tartan-hat wearing Andy Murray during a charity event in Glasgow.

The match was the first time Murray has played in public since suffering a hip injury at Wimbledon.

The pair did not appear to be taking things too seriously with Federer playing one game in a kilt borrowed from a female fan.

Murray then sported a Tam O'Shanter or "see you Jimmy" hat produced by his Swiss opponent.

World number two Federer had earlier spoken of being welcomed to Scotland with shortbread made by "Andy's granny" and a can of Irn Bru.

He tweeted a picture of a biscuit tin and an open can of the famous Scottish fizzy drink and wrote: "Can't get a warmer welcome than this. Thanks @andy-murray ... is this your usual pre-match routine?"

Murray replied: "Yea that's a good start but try a deep fried Mars bar on top of that and you'll be properly ready @rogerfederer."

About 11,000 fans packed the SSE Hydro in Glasgow for the Andy Murray Live exhibition match. The Scot lost 6-3 3-6 10-6.

During an interview after taking the first set, Federer joked: "If anyone brings me a kilt, I will put it on."

A female fan then appeared at the side of the court willing to give him hers.

Later Murray put on a tartan hat Federer presented him with midway through the tie-break.

Speaking about his own tartan attire, the Swiss player said: "What impressed me was how quickly the kilt was organised."

"When I took it off I felt naked because it was nice and snug and heavy."

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Roger Federer records his 50th match win of 2017 at ATP World Tour Finals

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Roger Federer opened his quest for a record seventh title at the Nitto ATP Finals on Sunday by beating season finale debutant Jack Sock at The O2 in London.

Second seed Federer recorded his 50th match win of the year with a 6-4, 7-6(4) victory over eighth seed Sock in one hour and 31 minutes in their Group Boris Becker opener.

Federer capitalised on early nerves by Sock, winner of his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title at the Rolex Paris Masters seven days ago, with a service break in the first game. Sock grew in confidence by using his powerful forehand to pierce holes in Federer’s game, but he was unable to break back.

"I'm happy that I was able to come out today and had actually good energy," Federer said. "This is the best I've felt since the Del Potro final (in Basel). I'm very happy to see that I didn't have to pay the price for taking it easy and resting and recovering. But then turning it up the last few days got me in shape for today. Now I think I'm in the tournament. There's no more turning back. Just full steam ahead every match that comes."

" I think we're all going to start playing better every round that goes by," Federer added. "It's just still early days in the tournament. Can't expect to play your best against the best players in the world in that first match.

"I think, like I explained on the court in the interview, it was more about managing the match rather than actually having a certain way how you play and what you were really thinking about. Sure, I had a tactical plan with my team. But very often in a first match like this, it gets thrown overboard because at the end you're just happy to be serving well. Focus on that first, and then on the return game sort of try your best, try to keep the ball in play and go from there."

At 3-3, 30/40 in the second set, Sock struck a serve that jammed up Federer on a backhand return in a confidence-boosting hold. In the American’s next service game, he recovered from 15/40 — and saved five break points in total.

Federer, in contrast, lost just two of his first-service points through his first six service games of the second set. In the tie-break, as Federer edged closer to his 12th victory over a Top 10 players in the Emirates ATP Rankings this season, he opened up a 4/2 advantage. The encounter ended with Sock striking a backhand return long.

"I thought the intros were pretty sweet," said Sock about the atmosphere in The O2. "The floor was all lit up with pictures. I thought the graphics were really cool. I think it makes for a fun atmosphere. The fans love it. It's fun to walk out to matches like that, of course. I'm looking forward to my next few.

"Not a whole lot to hang my head about today. Obviously, you know, would like to start out with a win instead, especially being right there. It was a couple points. Had some looks to get back on serve in the first. Yeah, he came up with some good shots in the breaker. Other than that, it was a close match."

Federer is now 53-12 at the Nitto ATP Finals, which he first qualified for in 2002 when the tournament was played in Shanghai.

Federer improved to a 4-0 FedEx ATP Head2Head record against Sock, which also includes a win at the BNP Paribas Open in March.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Roger Federer winner of Comeback, Sportsmanship & Fans Favourite at ATP World Tour Awards

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Roger Federer’s 2017 season has been recognised with three ATP World Tour Awards presented by Moët & Chandon. The 36-year-old takes his record tally to 36 awards since 2003.

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Federer has been selected by fans as Fans’ Favourite presented by Moët & Chandon for a 15th straight year, and voted by fellow players as the winner of the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award and Comeback Player of the Year.

This marks the 13th time and seventh year in a row that he has been recognised with the Sportsmanship Award – he also won it six straight years from 2004-09 – and the first time he has won the Comeback Award.

Federer started 2017 at No. 17 in the Emirates ATP Rankings, having missed the second half of 2016 to recuperate from knee surgery, and has risen to No. 2 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. He has claimed seven titles during his comeback campaign, including two Grand Slams (Australian Open, Wimbledon), three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 (Indian Wells, Miami, Shanghai) and a pair of ATP World Tour 500s (Halle, Basel).

The Swiss received his trophies during the Awards ceremony at the Nitto ATP Finals Official Launch Party, presented by Moët & Chandon, held Thursday evening at the Tower of London.

Federer has also won the ATP World Tour No. 1 presented by Emirates five times (2004-07, 2009) and the Arthur Ashe Humanitarian Award twice (2006, 2013).

Even though I think Roger Federer is an exemplary sportsman and the epitome of sportsmanship. 

I actually thought Juan Martin Del Potro deserved the Stefan Edberg Award more this year.  I mean Roger is pretty much a good sportsman 24/7. 

It's nothing new it's just the way he is.  Del Potro really showed some fantastic sportsmanship during many of his matches where his opponents were really hurt (I think he even carried their tennis raquet bag).  

So yeah, love Rog happy for him.  But it should have gone to Delpo.