For more than a set and a half last night it seemed that Roger Federer was heading for a third consecutive defeat for the first time in more than seven years.
The world No 1, who had lost to Novak Djokovic in Basle and to Julien Benneteau in Paris in his previous two matches, looked badly out of sorts in losing his opening set to Fernando Verdasco at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals before recovering to win 4-6, 7-5, 6-1.
Given that Federer's next match will be against Andy Murray it was vital that the Swiss made a winning start. Twelve months ago he never recovered after losing to Gilles Simon in his opener and went out of the competition after falling to Murray in his final round-robin match.
Although Federer had never lost a set in three previous matches against Verdasco, he has often had trouble with left-handers – especially those from Spain – which was probably why he warmed up by hitting on centre court with Greg Rusedski.
The scoreboard above the court stated at the start of the match that Federer was representing Spain. The Swiss certainly seemed happy to help Verdasco, who broke to love in the opening game. While Federer kept getting into trouble on his serve and made 16 unforced errors in the first set, Verdasco had few such difficulties and took it in 38 minutes.
From that point onwards, however, Federer started to hit the ball more cleanly and his confidence rose. The second set went with serve for the first 11 games, although Verdasco had a chance when Federer served at 5-5 and 30-30.
In the following game, however, Verdasco was broken, Federer levelling the match with a smash on his first set point. Having averted the crisis, he won eight of the last nine games to take the match in just under two hours. By the end the world No 1 was playing with his usual panache and was particularly potent at the net.
"In the first set I was struggling to hit normal returns and I thought he did a good job mixing it up," Federer said afterwards. "I just felt that at the beginning of the second set I was starting to return better."