ATP World Tour Finals 2013: Roger Federer sets up semi-final with Rafael Nadal after coming from behind to beat Juan Martin del Potro

The former world number one progresses as runner up to Novak Djokovic

the o2 arena

Roger Federer has won more matches than anyone at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals but few can have been more dramatic than his 44th victory here at the year-ending championships.

Needing to beat Juan Martin del Potro to reach the semi-finals for the 11th time in 12 appearances, the 32-year-old Swiss repeatedly had to dig himself out of trouble before winning 4-6, 7-6, 7-5.

Federer, who was 3-0 down in the third set, may have had his least successful season for 12 years but he showed that the old magic is still there, even if we see it less frequently these days. The world No 7 faces Rafael Nadal in a semi-final to be savoured this afternoon before Novak Djokovic – a 7-6, 4-6, 6-3 winner over Richard Gasquet – takes on Stanislas Wawrinka.

The capacity 17,500 crowd, who were overwhelmingly behind Federer, were treated to the best match of the week in a winner-takes-all shoot-out for the last semi-final place. It was a match that summed up Federer's year. There were times when he looked a spent force, frustrated by his mistakes, but others when he was as majestic as ever.

"I fought back the whole match," Federer said afterwards. "I was really getting angry at myself, wondering how I could just play a loose game, wondering why this was happening.

"I wasn't in many of Juan Martin's service games, so I felt I would probably get just one more chance to break back [in the third set]. That's exactly what happened. Once on even terms, I was able to play a little bit more freely. For the first time I almost felt like I was in the lead. It was a great finish. I was very happy. To get the victory was a great feeling."

Del Potro went 5-1 up in the opener before Federer embarked on a masterclass. The Swiss won 16 out of the next 20 points and went within a point of levelling at 5-5 after a rally of sheer brilliance.

Under attack, Federer hit an exquisite sliced backhand lob into a corner and followed it up with a winning volley. Del Potro, nevertheless, served his way out of trouble to take the set.

The world No 5 again drew first blood in the second set, only to play his worst game to allow Federer to break back for 3-3.

The Swiss went on to play an excellent tie-break, clinching it 7-2 with an ace. Once again magic was followed by mediocrity as two woeful Federer forehands enabled Del Potro to make the first break of the decider, but the former world No 1 clawed his way back to 3-3 from 3-0 down.

By now the pair were playing some breathtaking points. In one, Del Potro retrieved a lob with a through-the-legs "hot dog" before Federer, chasing another lob, hit a wonderfully improvised overhead with his back to the net and then won the point with a forehand cross-court pass.

At 5-5 Federer made the final break, forcing Del Potro into a mistake with a splendid return. Federer saved one break point in the next game before sealing victory with an ace, upon which he thrust his arms in the air and beat his chest in celebration. There is clearly life in the old dog yet.

BUY WIMBLEDON TICKETS

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'