Federer heads for London in winning form



Never write him off. Just a fortnight ago, Roger Federer was enduring his longest run without a tournament win for more than nine years and had dropped out of the world's top three for the first time since 2003. Yesterday, the Swiss won the Paris Masters to claim his second title in eight days, following his victory in Basle and install himself as the favourite to win the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, which begin at the O2 Arena in London on Sunday.

Federer has not won a Grand Slam for 22 months but his 6-1, 7-6 victory over France's Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was a reminder that the 30-year-old is still a force. No player knows better how to manage his body through a gruelling season and his decision to take a six-week break from mid-September has been rewarded with 10 victories in just 13 days.

Twelve months ago, Federer followed up two tournament wins on the European indoor circuit with victory at the O2 Arena and he looks in excellent shape to win the year-ending finale for a sixth time. The tournament promises to be a cracker. In the past, too many players have arrived exhausted by their year's efforts, but as well as Federer there are three other players in the eight-man field who are in fine form.

Andy Murray, who would love to win on home soil, has been the game's outstanding player since the US Open, while Tsonga and Tomas Berdych have both won titles since New York. Novak Djokovic, who still has to confirm his fitness after withdrawing from Paris with a shoulder injury, and Rafael Nadal, who chose not to play here and has next month's Davis Cup final to look forward to, could both struggle to make it past the round-robin group stage, the draw for which will be made tomorrow.

"It's not like in maybe other years where there were one or two such clear favourites," Federer said. "These groups we're going to see have potential for everybody to win the tournament."

This was Federer's first Masters title in 15 months but the 18th of his career. Only Nadal, with 19, has won more. Federer became the first man to reach all nine Masters Series finals and joined Andre Agassi as the only men to win seven of them. Agassi is the only other player who has won the French Open and the Paris Masters.

Federer has been suffering with a cold but never looked in trouble as Tsonga failed to find the form that saw him save three match-points against John Isner in the semi-finals. Federer, who had given one of his best performances of the year to beat Berdych on Saturday and reach the 99th final of his career, won the first five games, stunning Tsonga with the quality of his returns. If the Frenchman did not hit an ace or service winner he was invariably in trouble. A packed crowd tried to get behind their man but you sensed their efforts were half-hearted. The Paris public love Federer for his style, both on and off the court, and for the fact he speaks French fluently.

Tsonga played better in the second set and forced two break points but a repeat of his remarkable comeback victory over Federer at Wimbledon never looked likely. There were no more breaks of serve and Federer won the tiebreak 7-3.

A fan in the crowd had a hand-written placard which bore a message for the seven other contenders at the O2 Arena next week. It read: "Come on Roger – 1 Basel, 2 Paris, 3 London."

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