Revenge is still sweet for classy Federer

 

The O2 Arena

Normal service has been resumed. Five months after Roger Federer was beaten by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Wimbledon, when he lost from two sets up for the first time in 179 Grand Slam matches, the Swiss and the Frenchman experienced different fortunes as they met again in London yesterday. The opening round-robin match of the ATP World Tour Finals here ended in a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 victory for Federer, who is chasing a record sixth victory in the season-ending finale.

Although Tsonga underscored his quarter-final triumph at the All England Club by winning again less than two months later in Montreal, the world No 6 has now lost to Federer three times in succession, having failed to win a set against him at either the US Open or the recent Paris Masters. Yesterday's meeting was their seventh of the year, Federer having also won the first two, in Doha and Rome.

This tournament is in its third year here and the public's enthusiasm is undimmed. Almost every seat in the 17,500-capacity arena was filled. The players love the big-occasion atmosphere, though Tsonga's slow start may well have been down to the fact that this was his first experience of playing under the dome. "It was good – but everybody was for Roger," he said later as he gave his verdict on the venue.

Federer's supporters included Thierry Henry, who sat between the world No 4's wife, Mirka, and his father, Robert. "I think he was happy," Federer said with a smile when asked what the former Arsenal striker had made of his performance. "He wasn't crying when I came into the locker room."

Tsonga denied that he had felt nervous at the start, but the 26-year-old Frenchman had not looked like a man brimming with confidence. He put only one of his opening eight first serves in court and played a dreadful game as Federer broke to love to lead 3-1. Four games later a wild double fault handed the defending champion three set points, the first of which he converted when Tsonga netted a half-volley. The Frenchman won only 11 points in a set that lasted just 21 minutes.

Nevertheless, a curiously lop-sided match turned at the start of the second set as the rhythm Tsonga suddenly rediscovered on his serve restored his confidence. He played some splendid points at the net and broke serve in the third and seventh games as mistakes started to flow from Federer's racket.

"It's really hard to get into any sort of rhythm against him from the baseline because he's a very good one-two puncher as well, which he proved over four and a half sets against me at Wimbledon," Federer admitted afterwards. "I think that makes him particularly hard to return sometimes. Today I had flashes of that match because I didn't have much of a chance for a while on his serve."

Tsonga saved a break point with a forehand winner at 2-3 in the decider, but with Federer recovering his composure you sensed there would be only one winner. When Tsonga served at 4-5 Federer's attacking play set up three match points, the second of which he converted with a winning backhand.

The round-robin format means that Tsonga can still qualify for the semi-finals and he should take consolation from the fact that he has played potentially his toughest group encounter. His other matches will be against Rafael Nadal and Mardy Fish, who were meeting last night.

Andy Murray's group play their first matches today, with the world No 3 facing David Ferrer this afternoon and Novak Djokovic meeting Tomas Berdych in the evening. Murray has only ever lost to Ferrer on clay and beat the world No 5 in straight sets in the group stage here 12 months ago.

Nevertheless, there is no other tournament in the year where two such highly ranked players could meet in their first matches. "It's just the mentality of having to be right on your game and making sure from the first match that you're switched on," Murray said.

"It's not like I go into any other tournament not trying to be switched on, but sometimes you're not quite playing your best and you can scrape your way through a match or two and then work your way into the tournament. Here you have to play your best. It's as simple as that – so your mindset does change a little bit."

Given that his other group opponents are Djokovic, the world No 1, and Berdych, who beat the Scot for the third time in a row when he won their Paris Masters quarter-final 10 days ago, a good start could be crucial.

"If I don't play well then it's going to be a tough one," Murray said. "Obviously Berdych played very, very well in Paris and Novak has had the year that he's had, even though he's had some problems in the last few weeks. So it's going to be tough – a lot of long points, long matches probably."

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