The head-to-head record is still heavily in his rival's favour, but Roger Federer savoured the most emphatic victory over Rafael Nadal of his career here at the O2 Arena last night. Federer became the first player in the eight-man field at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals to qualify for Saturday's semi-finals thanks to a remarkable 6-3, 6-0 victory over an opponent who had won 17 of their previous 25 matches.
In their only meeting other than in a final or semi-final since their first seven years ago, Federer triumphed in just 59 minutes. The 30-year-old Swiss produced a wonderful display of attacking tennis, striking 28 winners to Nadal's four.
"It was a great match for me basically from start to finish," Federer said afterwards. "I was able to do what I was hoping to do: dominate from the baseline, play close to the baseline, serve well, take his time away."
Nadal's previous heaviest defeat to Federer was a 6-4, 6-1 loss in this tournament in Shanghai four years ago. The 25-year-old Spaniard had won nine of their 11 subsequent meetings, including all three this year, his last loss having come in the final here 12 months ago. Federer has now won all four of their matches played indoors.
Thanks largely to their Wimbledon exploits, both players are held in great affection by the British public and from the start there was an enthusiastic atmosphere inside the arena. Federer hit a double-fault on the opening point but took charge after the first five games had gone with serve. The turning point was a superb 33-shot rally Federer won to break Nadal for a 4-2 lead.
Federer won 10 of the last 11 games and did not give Nadal a break point all match. Nadal won only nine points in the second set as the world No 2 went down to his heaviest defeat against any opponent for nearly four years. "He played too well for me," Nadal said later. "I just have to accept that."
Although Federer has not won a Grand Slam tournament for 22 months and recently dropped out of the world's top three for the first time for more than eight years, the world No 4 has been in superb form in recent weeks. He won the titles in Basle and Paris, is unbeaten in the 14 matches he has played since the US Open and is attempting to become the first player to win this title six times.
Nadal has not won a tournament for five months. He will now have to beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in their winner-takes-all final group match tomorrow if he is to make the last four here. Tsonga, having lost to Federer in his opening match, put himself back in contention with a convincing 7-6, 6-1 victory over Mardy Fish.