Federer ends Murray’s year, will face Djokovic in finals

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No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Roger Federer will battle on Monday in the finale of the World Tour Finals. (Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters)

LONDON — The ATP’s season-ending event will come down to No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 2 Roger Federer in the finale of the World Tour Finals on Monday.

Djokovic outlasted Juan Martin del Potro 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in Sunday’s first semifinal, while Federer ended Andy Murray’s bid for his first title at this event with a 7-6 (5), 6-2 victory. As a result, Djokovic will look to cap his No. 1 season with his second year-end title (he won the Tour Finals in Shanghai in 2008), while Federer will be going for his third straight title here and seventh overall.

Monday will bring one last showdown between Djokovic and Federer, their fifth clash of the year and 29th all time. The two have split four meetings in 2012, with Djokovic taking two on clay (Rome, the French Open) and Federer capitalizing on the quick surfaces at Wimbledon and Cincinnati. Their matches have gone true to form in a rivalry that has been relatively even (Federer leads 16-12) and has turned on court speed and whoever was hotter at the time.

So what does that mean for Monday’s final? Both men won semifinals in which they sputtered early only to turn things around and run away. Djokovic weathered a fantastic first set from Del Potro (the Argentine joked that the semifinals included the Big Three and “a big guy”), who put on a show that recalled his 2009 Slam-winning ways, and tightened up his game just in time to take Del Potro’s long and lanky legs out of the match. It was a classic display from Djokovic, who siphoned off any belief Del Potro had with every break point saved and impossible get gotten. By the time the third set rolled around, Del Potro was barely moving to cover the line and challenging balls that were two feet out just in hopes of grabbing some air.

As for Federer, he fell behind an early break and struggled to hang in on his service games. And then the Swiss seemed to recall that he was playing indoors — remember that Wimbledon final? — and got the break back before outplaying Murray in the first-set tiebreaker. From there, with 17,000-plus fans supporting him — yes, the crowd was firmly behind the Swiss import rather than its own Olympic double medalist — Federer broke it open by converting both his second-set break points and winning 16-of-18 service points in the set.

Neither Djokovic nor Federer has played his best throughout the week, but like the savvy pros that they are, they’ve played well enough to win, confident that their best will come later. Given the surface and the crowd support — if you thought they were loud when Federer played Murray, wait until he faces Djokovic — it’s hard to bet against Federer here. He’s a different player when he’s under a roof — he’s 3-1 against Djokovic indoors — and he has a chance to become the first player to win three consecutive World Tour Finals since Ivan Lendl in 1987. I think Federer will step it up.

A few additional thoughts as we head into the last match of the ATP season:

The Player of the Year debate: My colleagues Bruce Jenkins and Jon Wertheim are backing Murray for ATP Player of the Year, and I do understand the argument. Though he was a bit up and down, Murray’s season will be remembered for his Slam breakthrough and becoming the only man to do the Olympics-U.S. Open double. In many ways, Murray defined 2012. His trajectory from losing that close Australian Open semifinal to Djokovic, to being reduced to tears by Federer at Wimbledon, to leaping in triumph as he wore the Union Jack on his chest at the Olympics, to squatting in relief when he finally won that major in New York — those are the lasting images of the year.

But it’s just too fluffy for me. I like numbers. I’m not particularly good with them — you know this if you follow me on Twitter — but I do like the ability to quantify and rank success. Djokovic won Australia, made the finals of the French Open and U.S. Open, won five titles (with a chance for a sixth) and reached the semifinals or better at 15 of 17 tournaments. He’ll finish the year No. 1.

But if Federer wins Monday, I’m inclined to back him as Player of the Year. A victory would give him his seventh title of the year, matching David Ferrer for the tour lead.  He also won Wimbledon and an Olympic silver medal and returned to No. 1 after a two-year absence, all at the over-the-hill ages of 30 and 31. We’re arguing about the slightest of margins here, but if Federer captures his seventh year-end title, I put him ahead by a whisker.

Andy Murray? More like Anti-Murray: The last time I was in London, I was boarding a plane and being inundated by newspaper cover after newspaper cover with pictures of a tearful Murray after his defeat to Federer in the Wimbledon final, with some sort of “He lost the match but won over the heart of a nation” sentiment. Fickle hearts, these Brits.

Look, it’s never a shock to hear a pro-Federer crowd, not even here in Britain. The crowd for the Wimbledon final was about 60-40 for Federer, even after Murray took the first set and looked like he might actually have a shot to win the thing. But to hear this British (English?) crowd so anti-Murray was something else. They applauded his unforced errors, booed when he changed rackets and weren’t exactly coming out of their seats to give him an ovation when he walked off the court for the last time at the end of his dream season. Again, completely understandable to go nuts and cheer for your favorite player regardless of national interests — and really, isn’t that what makes it fun to be a tennis fan? But actively rooting against your own guy? Brutal.

Del Potro is on the brink … of something: Del Potro remains the only man outside of the Big Four to win a major in forever. OK, fine, since Marat Safin at the 2005 Australian Open, which feels like forever ago. He was relatively quiet through the first part of 2012, but his year seemed to change at Roland Garros, where he built a two-set lead on Federer in the quarterfinals before losing in five sets. The Argentine says that match made him believe that he could once again compete with the best, and sure enough he hung with Federer again in the Olympic semifinals, losing 3-6, 7-6 (5), 19-17. Fast-forward a few months and there was the Argentine, who had gone 0-6 against Federer this season, nipping the Swiss in the final of his hometown tournament in Basel, and then he beat him again indoors this week, once again in three sets.

His serve and forehand have finally started to click during the last few months of the season, and the shot that breaks open rallies for him — his forehand down the line — is slowly getting more consistent. That’s the shot to look out for when the tour resumes in Australia in January. If that shot is clicking, 2013 is going to look a lot like 2009. I’m already looking forward to it.

  • Published On Nov 11, 2012

    Djokovic was lucky that Del Potro -- who was exhausted by his match against Federer the previous day (where Delpo's serve was even more potent) -- started running out of gas by the middle of the second set and let his focus and play slip. Credit to Novak for stepping up, but the outcome might have been different had Delpo been fresher.


    Indoors cannot be used as an excuse for Federer twice beating Andy Murray in his backyard. First, Federer’s outdoor hardcourt winning record is about 4% better than his indoor hardcourt winning record. Second, Murray is No. 9 in indoor winning percentage in the ATP's 40-year history, only slightly less than Federer (see link)! Among current players, Murray is second to Federer in indoor winning percentage and indoor titles so the indoor gap between them should be marginal. The simple reason Federer beats Murray: Roger is the arguably the greatest winner, competitor and champion in tennis history -- he tends to find a way to win when he is physically 100% (half of Murray's wins against him came between January 2008 to April 2009, when Federer was in a relative slump due to the aftermath of his mononucleosis and back problems). Federer also has the best tiebreak record in tennis history.






    If the ATP players voted on 'Player Of The Year' after the final of the World Tour Finals, who would they vote for? It's unlikely they'll vote for Murray. From a player's point of view, the POTY is the most valuable player of the year who has had the greatest impact on the ATP Tour in terms of success, domination and consistency.


    From the news media's point of view, the POTY is the person who generated the most interesting news stories and buzz. But Murray's two over-hyped titles mask his relative mediocrity in much of his season. In sober hindsight, Murray's breakthrough major and Olympic novelty did not have the most impact this year -- any more than Andy Roddick's or Juan Carlos Ferrero's breakthrough wins had in 2003 (or any other one-slam wonder had in other seasons in tennis history). The news media is attracted to Andy Murray like a baby is attracted to a shiny new toy, but in the big picture Murray's success is inferior to Djokovic or Federer. That's why Courtney is probably unconvinced by the arguments for Murray to be the POTY -- given she has probably intuitively quantified and ranked the succes of the top players.


    As I posted before, the ATP Player Of The Year award -- in those years where the four majors were won by four different players -- has, in most cases, been awarded to the player with the year-end No. 1 ranking (this player gets the ATP World Tour No. 1 trophy). And in most cases, the ITF World Champion award has been awarded to the same player. So, according to convention, Djokovic should be the ATP POTY.


    However, if we put aside how the ATP POTY and ITF World Champion conventions, what data would we use to quanitfy and rank the Player Of The Year? Hours before the final of the World Tour Finals, not much (practocally) separates Djokovic and Federer this season. Both have played 17 ATP tournaments.


    Here is a summary of the performance indicators on the top three players (** revise Roger and Novak's results based on WTF final).





    Won 3 titles: US Open (second most prestigious major), Olympic gold medal (debatable importance and prestige in the sport), Brisbane ATP 250. Murray got only 3,000 ranking points from winning titles. Murray has won outdoor hardcourt and grass court titles -- he has failed to win any level of title on clay and indoors.


    Reached 7 finals and 10 semifinals in 19 tournaments. Breakdown of tournament performance:

    - National Representation: Davis Cup (Did Not Play); Olympic Games (W-GM)

    - Grand Slam tournaments: US Open (W); Wimbledon (F); Australian Open (SF); French Open (QF).            

    - ATP World Tour Finals Year-End World Championship: (SF)

    - ATP Masters 1000: Miami (F); Shanghai (F); Monte Carlo (QF); Canada (3R); Paris (3R); Rome (3R); Cincinnati (3R); Indian Wells (2R); Madrid (DNP).       

    - ATP 500: Beijing (W); Dubai (SF)

    - ATP 250: Brisbane (W); London/Queens (2R)


    Murray has an overall 5-7 losing record against the Big 4 Players. To date, in head-to-head meetings against Federer and Djokovic:

    - Djokovic 4-3 Murray: Djokovic won Australian Open semifinal, Miami final, Shanghai final and WTF round robin (worth 2,920 ranking points). Murray won US Open final, Olympics semifinal and Dubai 500 semifinal (worth 2,750 points).

    - Federer 3-2 Murray: Federer won Wimbledon final, World Tour Finals semifinal and Dubai final (worth 2,900 ranking points). Murray won Olympics final and Shanghai Masters semifinal (worth 1,350 points).


    Overall win-loss is 56-16 (78% -- Ferrer, Delpo, Djokovic, Nadal, Federer have better records).        


    Prize money is $5,124,230 (only $126,782 more than long absent Nadal)


    Overtook Nadal to reach ATP No. 3 after US Open.


    Finished the year No. 3 with 8,000 ranking points (only 1,160 points more than Nadal and 1,570 more than Ferrer).


    Note: Murray skipped Davis Cup this entire year 2012 in order to focus his efforts on the ATP World Tour.


    (continued below)





    Won 5 or 6** titles: Australian Open (least prestigious of the four majors, at least historically), ATP World Tour Finals year-end world championship** (fifth most prestigious major in tennis), Miami Masters 1000, Canada Masters 1000 (Olympics-depleted field), Shanghai Masters 1000, Beijing 500. Djokovic got 5,500 or 7,000** ranking points from winning titles. To date, Djokovic has won only outdoor hardcourt titles** -- he has failed to win any level of title on clay, grass, indoors** as well as during the softcourt season (clay/grass).


    Reached 11 finals and 15 semifinals in 17 tournaments. (However, in sports, what really matters is the champion's titles and medals. When a player is inadequate in the primary measures, their advocates tend to grasp at secondary 'Buffalo Bills"' measures such as finals, semifinals, quarterfinals to compensate for and embellish their lack of success). Breakdown of tournament performance:

    - National Representation: Davis Cup (Did Not Play); Olympic Games (SF-4th, no medal)

    - Grand Slam tournaments: Australian Open (W); French Open (F); US Open (F), Wimbledon (SF).   

    - ATP World Tour Finals Year-End World Championship: (F or W**)

    - ATP Masters 1000: Miami (W); Canada (W); Shanghai (W); Monte Carlo (F); Rome (F); Cincinnati (F); Miami (SF); Madrid (QF); Paris (2R)

    - ATP 500: Beijing (W); Dubai (SF)


    Djokovic has an overall 6-9 losing record against the Big 4 Players (1-3 against Nadal). To date, in head-to-head meetings against Federer and Djokovic:

    - Federer 2-2 Djokovic: Federer won Wimbledon semifinal and Cincinnati Masters final (worth  2,200 ranking points at stake) -- and Federer bageled Djokovic 6-0, 7-6 at the Cincinnati final. Djokovic won French Open semifinal and Rome Masters semifinal (worth 1,800 points). Does not include today's WTF final.

    - Djokovic 4-3 Murray: Djokovic won Australian Open semifinal, Miami final, Shanghai final and WTF round robin (worth 2,920 ranking points). Murray won US Open final, Olympics semifinal and Dubai 500 semifinal (worth 2,750 points).


    Overall win-loss will be 74-13 (85%) or 75-12 (86%)**.        


    Prize money will be $9,123,737 or $9,953,737**.


    Was ATP World No. 1 for 35 weeks in 2012 to give him 62 total weeks at No.1.


    Will finish the year No. 1 with 12,420 or 12,920** ranking points.


    Note: Djokovic skipped Davis Cup this entire year 2012 (and played only 4.5 losing sets in 2011) in order to focus his efforts on the ATP World Tour. This is not surprising since in 2010 -- when Djokovic played maximum Davis Cup -- he had his worst ATP season since entering the top ten in 2007. Yet Serbia has a deeper Davis Cup team than Switzerland. Second, unlike Federer and Del Potro (whose marathon epic semifinal lasted 58 games, 366 points), the 'marathon man' Djokovic uncharacteristically put less effort put into his matches at the Olympic semifinal (24 games, 152 points) and for the bronze medal (22 games, 133 points) possibly to save himself for the Canada Masters and Cincinnati Masters in order to take the first steps to regain the No. 1 ranking.





    Won 7 or 8** titles/medals (6 or 7**  ATP titles, 1 Olympic medal): Wimbledon (most prestigious major, historically and currently), ATP World Tour Finals year-end world championship** (fifth most prestigious major in tennis), Indian Wells Masters 1000, Madrid Masters 1000, Cincinnati Masters 1000, Olympics silver medal, Rotterdam 500, Dubai 500. Roger achieved 6,450 or 7,750** ranking points from winning titles and medals. Federer won big titles on every surface (hardcourt, clay, grass), both outdoor/indoor, and in every part of the season** -- unlike rivals Djokovic**, Murray and Nadal. 


    Reached 10 finals and 15 semifinals in 17 tournaments. (However, in sports, we recognize champions who have won titles and medals -- that's what really matters. Secondary measures such as finals, semifinals, quarterfinals are desperately used to embellish players lacking in the primary measures).


    Breakdown of tournament/activity performance:

    - National Representation: Davis Cup (2 Ties); Olympic Games (F-SM)

    - Grand Slam tournaments: Wimbledon (W); Australian Open (SF); French Open (SF); US Open (QF)           

    - ATP World Tour Finals Year-End World Championship: (F or W**)

    - ATP Masters 1000: Indian Wells (W); Madrid (W); Cincinnati (W); Monte Carlo (DNP); Canada (DNP); Paris (DNP); Rome (SF); Shanghai (SF); Miami (3R);

    - ATP 500: Rotterdam (W); Dubai (W); Basel (F); Beijing/Tokyo (DNP)

    - ATP 250: Halle (F); Doha (SF)


    31-year old Federer has an overall 6-5 winning record against the other Big 4 Players all in their prime and five to six years younger (Roger does not have a losing record against any top ten player). In head-to-head meetings against Djokovic and Murray, it was Federer who won the bigger meetings in terms of ranking points at stake.

    - Federer 2-2 Djokovic: Federer won Wimbledon semifinal and Cincinnati Masters final (worth  2,200 ranking points at stake) -- and Federer bageled Djokovic 6-0, 7-6 at the Cincinnati final. Djokovic won French Open semifinal and Rome Masters semifinal (worth 1,800 points). Does not include today's WTF final.

    - Federer 3-2 Murray: Federer won Wimbledon final, World Tour Finals semifinal and Dubai final (worth 2,900 ranking points). Murray won Olympics final and Shanghai Masters semifinal (worth 1,350 points).


    Overall win-loss will be 71–12 (86%) or 72-11 (87%)**.        


    Prize money will be $7,424,842 or $8,254,842**.


    Returned to ATP World No. 1 for 17 weeks to give him a record 302 total weeks at No.1.


    Will finish the year No. 2 with 10,265 or 10,775** ranking points.


    Note: Federer would possibly/likely have finished the year No. 1 had he played four strategic events (Monte Carlo, Canada, Paris and Beijing worth maximum 3,500 ranking points) and had he not wasted his focus and energies on Davis Cup, Olympics, Basel and the ATP Player Council. Federer's overall ATP World Tour schedule and results were likely negatively impacted by his participation in Davis Cup, Olympics and his Basel home event. In addition to his 17 ATP events, Federer played the maximum 2 Davis Cup ties this year involving 5 best-of-five-set matches (in the past 17 months, that totals the maximum 4 ties of 10 best-of-five-set matches, including in far away Australia). Federer has said that the tradeoff for each Davis Cup tie is sacrifice of one Masters 1000 event. Because Federer played Basel, he was unable to play Paris. As a consequence of his Davis Cup commitments, marathon Olympic efforts and Basel commitment, 31-year old Federer withdrew from three Masters 1000 tournaments (Monte Carlo, Canada, Paris) and did not play Beijing/Tokyo 500. Furthermore, Federer's part-time 'union leader' job as president of the ATP Player Council since mid 2008 -- including his protracted prize money negotiations during several big tournaments this year -- has likely been a source of distraction, mental stress/exhaustion and burden on Federer's time (see link, e.g. what Federer was doing at Shanghai). His rivals such as Djokovic are able to focus on the ATP Tour without such burdens.



    1) Saying which major is 'most prestigious' vs. 'least prestigious' carries little weight as they are all worth the same amount of points and all the best players play them (Just because you think Australian is the least prestigious, didn't make it any easier for Novak to win against Murray and Nadal. In fact, it was the most amazing back-to-back feat of the grand slam season).


    2) Novak's record against other top 4 is 7-9, not 6-9 (all because of his clay losses to Nadal which he didn't have a chance to even out on the hard courts because of Rafa's absence). Also, Roger's record is positive because he was lucky to avoid Rafa in all clay matches.


    3) I don't think you can fairly say that Federer would have possibly/probably finished #1 had he played Monte Carlo/Canada/Paris (I won't even mention Beijing, since he never goes there anyway). I can just as easily claim that playing those events he would have possibly/probably burnt out and wouldn't have played as well in other events that he won (Madrid, Cincy). And even if he had played who's to say he would have won them? He'd need to make finals in all three (600 points each) to even be competitive with Novak in the race. Weak argument overall that makes Federer's year appear more successful (which, don't get me wrong, it was). 


     @great_escapist  @Michael9   Ultimately, your views on the prestige of the Grand Slams carry little weight, as well.


    What matters more is that virtually every top player has admitted that Wimbledon is their dream title. In 2009, Djokovic told the BBC: "I was always dreaming of winning Wimbledon, it's the most prestigious event so hopefully I will have the opportunity and honour one day." In 2011, when Djokovic fulfilled his biggest ambition -- winning Wimbledon -- he admitted: “The most special day of my life. This is my favorite tournament, the tournament I always dreamed of winning, the first tournament I ever watched in my life. I think I’m still sleeping.”


    Forbes Magazine: What Is The Most Prestigious Grand Slam Tennis Tournament? Wimbledon. What is the least prestigious? Australian Open.


    Wimbledon is widely considered by tennis players, fans, media, and officials as the most prestigious and celebrated event in the world to win. As the oldest tennis tournament in the world, it has history, tradition, atmosphere, rituals – from the all-white dress code to the ticket queue to appearances by the royal family – that give it unmatched character and prestige.


    Throughout tennis history, the Australian championship has been perceived to be the least prestigious major -- for several long periods it was not even valued as a major by the top players. For most of its history, most of the world's best players did not bother to participate, Australians made up the bulk of the draw and before 1988 it did not have enough players to make up a 128-man draw! In some years before the 1940s, it had as as small as an 8-man draw. In the 1930s to 1950s it had only a 32-man draw. In the 1960s it had only a 40-plus man draw (Rod Laver played only five rounds in 1962 and 1969 as it was only a 48 man draw -- 45 Australians in 1962 and 43 Australians in 1969). In the late 1970s, the Australian Open still had a 64 man draw. In the early 1980s, the Australian Open was a 96 person draw. It was only from 1988, that the Australian finally managed to present a 128-man draw. In mid-December 1974, Bjorn Borg traveled all the way to Melbourne to play the year-end championships, yet did not bother to stay for the 1975 Australian Open which started one week later in the same city!).


    You may be impressed by Djokovic getting mired in back-to-back inefficient matches against Murray and Nadal at the less prestigious Australian Open – but others may be more impressed by the back-to-back feats of six-years older Federer coasting through Djokovic and Murray at the more prestigious Wimbledon.




    Congrats, you found my one counting mistake, though you’re also wrong (it should have been 7-8 before the WTF final, not 6-9 as I originally miscounted). Djokovic now ends the year 8-8 against the other Big 4 based on 3-2 against Federer, 4-3 against Murray and 1-3 against Nadal. Second, Rafa’s absence did not just affect Djokovic – Rafa’s absence also affected Federer’s opportunities to further beat him in the grass court and faster hard court seasons. Third, in 2010, Djokovic was also ‘lucky’ to avoid Rafa in all clay matches, yet Novak still lost to Nadal in the only two matches they met on the fast hardcourts of the US Open and WTF. As well, for Federer to have played Nadal in clay matches this season, he would had to first beat Djokovic in the Rome and French Open semifinals – in other words, Roger would have had two extra wins over another Big 4 Player Novak so his overall H2H against the Big 4 would have been even better even if he had lost those two matches to Nadal, lol.




    My argument that Federer possibly/probably would have finished #1 had he played Monte Carlo, Canada, Paris and Beijing is reasonable and logical. Federer could have done well at these three Masters evens since Federer reached at least the semifinal of every Masters event he played except Miami. Federer thrashed Djokovic in Cincinnati, thrashed Nadal in Indian Wells (Rafa’s favorite hardcourt), and Federer beat the toughest average ranked opponents at Madrid (No. 12 from 7, 8, 6, 18, 23) without a warm up event – outside the WTF, no tournament champion beat such a highly-ranked pack. Djokovic won his three Masters titles without facing Federer or Nadal and he beat a bunch of puffballs in Canada. Thus Federer’s three Masters titles were more impressive than Djokovic’s.


    Djokovic skipping Davis Cup this entire year helped him finish No.1. In 2010, when he last played full Davis Cup (in matches and ties), Djokovic had his worst year on the ATP Tour since reaching top 10 in 2007. Imagine if Novak played Davis Cup this year – Serbia probably would have played Davis Cup in Argentina after the USO (just like Federer did against Australia in 2011). Without Davis Cup, Novak rebounded well from his USO loss to Murray – he clearly came into Beijing and Shanghai having trained hard and well-prepared for the Fall events. As well, without Davis Cup, Djokovic had the reserves to play all nine Masters events – while Federer had to sacrifice three Masters events.


    To finish No. 1, Federer would have had to skip Davis Cup (which Djokovic, Murray and Nadal did), skip Basel, and not wasted his efforts on that semifinal marathon (equivalent to the 2012 Australian final) at the low-point Olympics (in hindsight, it seems to me that Djokovic possibly conserved his energy in his last two losses at the Olympics in order to save himself for Canada and Cincinnati). Federer had a chance to reach the finals or win Canada since it had a depleted field and Federer bageled Novak in Cincinnati. Had Federer not played Davis Cup in February 2012 (as well as in the previous October and July 2011), he might have had the reserves to play Monte Carlo. Had Federer skipped the post-USO Davis Cup tie at the Netherlands (three consecutive best-of-five set matches), he could have recovered from the USO faster than Djokovic, put in a proper training block and challenged Djokovic at Beijing and Shanghai. Instead, Federer showed up rusty at Shanghai, where he was distracted by the death threats and wasted his time on negotiating prize money increases for the players.


    Tokyo is listed as one of his four ATP 500 events in his rankings breakdown. Federer won Tokyo in 2006 and up to 2005 played events in early October such as Bangkok (won 2004, 2005), Vienna (won 2002, 2003), Moscow.