LONDON — Roger Federer may have lost the No. 1 ranking to Novak Djokovic, but the Swiss is still making history left and right. Federer routed Janko Tipsarevic 6-3, 6-1 in his opener at the ATP World Tour Finals on Tuesday, giving the six-time champion a record 40 match victories in the tournament, one more than Ivan Lendl.
Meanwhile, Federer began the week by winning the ATP’s Fan Favorite Award for the 10th consecutive year. At a time when several players have charisma and skill in spades — this is the Golden Era, after all — that’s an astonishing run that speaks to Federer’s universal appeal. We’ve seen the squealing Rafael Nadal fans and the intense and energetic Djokovic supporters. But Federer is the guy who’s won over the world.
“I’m very, very honored, really, and very proud in some ways to be so well-liked by so many fans around the world, just not in one particular place or one country,” Federer said of winning the award, which is based on online voting. “It really seems to be everywhere I go I get a lot of fan support. So for me that’s a big thrill, probably one of the reasons also I’m still playing today. No doubt about it, they are inspiring me and motiviating me to show up every day in practice, in the match courts, and give my best, because I do feel I have big support and I do feel I need to reward them for their support.”
Federer was greeted for Tuesday’s match at the O2 Arena with thunderous applause and chanting after emerging from the dramatic smoke cloud that has become tradition at any indoor ATP event. The reception sounded noticeably louder than the greeting for Andy Murray on Monday. Anyone who watches tennis has seen the “Shhhh! Genius at Work!” flags and the “peRFect” signs, but this was the first time I’ve ever heard a dedicated, soccer-style chant for Federer outside of Davis Cup. It was … catchy.
The crowd’s energy didn’t dissipate as Federer raced to a 3-0 lead over the ninth-ranked Tipsarevic, who looked completely outmatched and unmotivated through the match. The Serb, who retired down 1-4 in the third set to Jerzy Janowicz in the Paris Masters quarterfinals last week because of “sudden fatigue,” could only stare at his box on changeovers and shake his head with resignation.
Tipsarevic entered 0-5 against Federer in his career — including a memorable battle at the 2008 Australian Open that went 10-8 in the fifth – and that wasn’t about to change here. Despite serving at only 51 percent, Federer never faced a break point and lost only one of 21 points on his first serve, winning in an hour and nine minutes. Tipsarevic, who was visibly coughing during the match and frequently going to the towel to blow his nose, said he didn’t have a chance.
“I definitely won’t blame the loss on my medical situation, if you would call it this,” Tipsarevic said. “I probably would have lost anyway, but the problem was that he got an early break in both sets. He is probably the best player in the world when he’s a break up early in the set.”
Federer got exactly what he wanted to start round-robin play — a speedy victory that didn’t force him to expend too much energy – in a group that includes Juan Martin del Potro and David Ferrer. It’s the softer group of the two (Djokovic and Murray, who will meet Wednesday, headline the other foursome) and one that Federer should advance from given that Del Potro is the only one of the three to ever beat him. Ferrer has won back-to-back indoor titles in Valencia and Paris, but he’s taken only three sets off Federer in 13 matches.
A few additional thoughts from Day 2 and a look ahead:
• Feel-good doubles: Jonny Marray and Freddie Nielsen, the unlikeliest of teams to walk away with a Grand Slam trophy this year, kept up their London winning streak. The Wimbledon champions, who have played a mere four tournaments together since triumphing at the All England Club, saved two match points to upset Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna 6-4, 6-7 (1), 12-10. Marray and Nielsen join Max Mirnyi and Daniel Nestor at 1-0 in Group B.
But the most interesting thing about the team — other than giving the British fans another local favorite to cheer for in Marray – is that despite its success, Nielsen simply doesn’t want to be a doubles player. Though his doubles ranking would get him direct entry into Masters tournaments for the first half of next year, the Dane, whose grandfather Kurt won the Wimbledon boys’ title in 1947, is convinced it wouldn’t make him happy.
“If I skipped singles now, it would be for the sake of results and money and that kind of stuff,” Nielsen said. “That’s never going to motivate me. Quite the contrary, it’s going to make it not enjoyable for me. If I sacrifice that, then I’m sacrificing the beliefs that I’m playing tennis on, and I’m not ready to do that. I don’t care if I have to play singles in a lower-ranked tournament than doubles would bring me, because I know there’s no other places I want to be.”
A nice antidote to all the talk of prize money these days.
• Wednesday’s singles schedule: Djokovic-Murray matches can be great (Australian Open semifinal) and they can be duds (Miami final), but they’re never without significance. Both men can’t stop talking about the physicality of their clashes, with Lendl famously telling Murray before their U.S. Open final that he has to be prepared for pain. Neither man looked in top form in his first match here; Djokovic came out emotionally flat against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Murray struggled with his focus against Tomas Berdych. But both showed flashes of their finest while pulling out victories, so here’s hoping this familiar matchup — the two friends practice together regularly — will help them unlock their best. The winner is practically assured a semifinal spot.
Berdych and Tsonga, both 0-1, meet in Wednesday’s night match. Berdych won their two meetings this year, while Tsonga’s one victory in four meetings overall came at last year’s World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena.