Federer's strength has records tumbling
Another year, another title, another set of records. Roger Federer seems to pass milestones as routinely as he passes opponents at the net and the 30-year-old Swiss ended his 13th full season on the tour here yesterday in the way that he knows best.
In beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 in a thrilling climax to the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals Federer became the first man to win the season-ending championship six times, having previously shared the record with Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras. He is the oldest man to win the title, supplanting Ilie Nastase, who was 29 when he won in 1975.
"It feels very special indeed," Federer said afterwards when asked about winning the title for a sixth time. "It's an amazing feeling. I know it's one of my greatest accomplishments."
The 807th win of Federer's career – which took him past the total of victories by Stefan Edberg, his boyhood idol – gave him his 70th title in his 100th final. Only Jimmy Connors, Lendl, John McEnroe and Guillermo Vilas have played in more finals in the Open era.
In today's world rankings Federer will retake the No 3 position taken from him last month by Andy Murray and thus end the year ranked inside the top three for the ninth season in succession. The former world No 1, who took his career earnings to nearly $67m (£43.3m) with his $1.63m (£1.05m) prize money here, has not added to his 16 Grand Slam titles for nearly two years but remains a major challenger for all the greatest honours. He has ended the season stronger than any of his rivals, winning 17 matches and three tournaments in a row.
The statistics, nevertheless, cannot do justice to Federer's brilliance or his resilience. Some of his tennis over the last week has been breathtaking in its attacking enterprise, while nobody handles the big occasions with more calm authority.
Another splendid week at a superbly run tournament, which has drawn more than a quarter of a million spectators for the third year in succession, was rewarded with a pulsating final.
With Pippa Middleton and Cristiano Ronaldo among the spectators there were plenty of show-stoppers in the packed 17,500-capacity arena. Boris Johnson appeared to take a desire to join that group too literally when he held up play after returning to his seat too late following a change of ends.
If celebrity-spotters had a field day, the lenses trained on the court focused mostly on one man. Federer is hugely popular the world over, but perhaps nowhere more so outside his own country than here.
Tsonga, nevertheless, had plenty of support too. The 26-year-old Frenchman, with a smile almost as broad as his shoulders, has won plenty of admirers on this side of the Channel with his bold attacking play.
This, remarkably, was the third Sunday in succession in which the two men faced each other – Federer won their Paris Masters final and their opening round-robin match here – and their eighth meeting this year.
For six games there was nothing to separate them. Tsonga, who has hit more aces this season than anyone, dropped only one point in his first three service games, but if his confidence was growing it was soon to be shattered. At 3-3 Federer won the first three points on the world No 6's serve with scorching backhands. On the fourth, Tsonga netted a volley as Federer cracked another big backhand down the line.
Having served out for the first set in 35 minutes, Federer seemed to have taken control of the second when he broke for a 3-2 lead with a thumping forehand return winner. The Swiss is normally the most effective of front-runners but cracked under a barrage of attacking shots when he attempted to serve out for the match at 5-4.
Tsonga punched the air in celebration after breaking serve for the first time with a smash and found similar strength in adversity in the tie-break. Federer led 5-2 but lost six of the next seven points, Tsonga saving a match point with a big forehand winner and then taking the set with a bold return.
At that stage both men might have thought back to their meeting in the Wimbledon quarter-finals five months ago, when Federer lost from two sets up for the first time in 179 Grand Slam matches, but this time the Swiss held firm. Tsonga saved two break points when serving at 3-4 but on the third he hit a forehand wide. The Swiss made no mistake when he served for the match for the second time. An ace set up three more match points and he needed only one, finishing with a smash. "I couldn't be more happy and I couldn't be more exhausted," the Swiss said after being presented the trophy.
Following a short break it will not be long before Federer begins his preparations for a new season. When the biggest prizes are handed out next year, do not be surprised if the greatest player of all time is around at the presentation ceremonies.
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