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Tennis News • The Upside Of Roger Federer’s Loss At The Nitto ATP Championships

By Alix Ramsay

The upside of Roger Federer’s opening encounter at the Nitto ATP Tour Finals (a catchy little title if ever there was one) is that he knows how to deal with the end-of-season jamboree these days. The downside is that, however much he has learned from two decades on the road, he still struggles against Dominic Thiem.

As London’s penultimate end-of-season jamboree lurched into life on Sunday (the event moves to Turin in 2021), Novak Djokovic marmalised Matteo Berrettini, so putting himself in pole position in the Bjorn Borg Group. He then sat back to see what the Mighty Fed could do. And what Fed did was lose 7-5, 7-5 to Thiem. It was his third loss to the Austrian this year and left their career rivalry looking somewhat lopsided – Thiem has now won five of seven matches. Fed’s last win was here in London last year in the group stages.

“The start definitely didn’t help,” Fed explained, having gone 2-0 down in the first set. “That put me on the back foot a little bit.

“But I recovered well, and I thought after that the match was actually pretty even for a long period of time. Had my chances, I felt, you know. Didn’t feel like I was outplayed or anything. Just maybe that first-round hiccups a little bit, not hitting your spots on the serve when you need to, getting into trouble early in the service games which maybe doesn’t happen later on in the tournament.

“I thought also Dominic saved himself real well when he had to, so I thought he played a tough first-round performance today, and my game was probably just not good enough, and the start didn’t help.”

So, Domi played well and Fed, by his own admission, didn’t. It was not a great opening to the Great One’s challenge for the title but it does, at least, make things simpler as the week goes on.

The round robin format makes the first six days of the tournament a complicated little so-and-so of an event. There have been times in the past, times when Fed has gone on to win the title, when he has had to call the tournament office to ask what, exactly, he needed to do to reach the semi-finals. Is a three-set win enough? Does it need to be straight sets? If so, how many games can I afford to drop? It can be a mathematical nightmare.

This year, though, thanks to Domi’s opening win, Fed knows exactly what he needs to do: win everything from now on. Simples. Except that one of those wins will have to be against Djokovic and Djoko is looking awfully comfortable at the moment. But before he gets that far, Fed must take on Berrettini and his big serve and thumping forehand.

“It’s a normal tournament from here on forward,” Fed said, putting a positive spin on a difficult situation. “Not allowed to lose anymore for me. That’s how it is every week of the year for the last 20 years, so from that standpoint there is nothing new there.

“Matteo, with his serve, with what he can do, obviously any opponent is dangerous here. He didn’t obviously have the best match today against Novak, you know. It’s probably also the toughest way to start off the World Tour Finals, playing Novak on the indoors, because he rarely has hiccups as well early on in tournaments.

“But, yeah, I’ve got to recover, I’ve got make sure I play better than today, and hopefully I can win that match.”

At least Fed knows how to get through the last tournament of the year. When he was a whippersnapper with a barrowload of talent, he would sometimes fade towards the end of the year; now he knows how to keep himself ready for the last big challenges of the season, even if doesn’t help him find a way past Thiem.

“I take breaks during the year,” he said. “It’s the only way. I can’t play every week. Can’t train every week. You need some vacation. You need some good training. You need enough matches so you get the flow going of the season.

“And then you’ve got to listen to the signs of your body. It’s as simple as that, really. Sometimes you’ve got to play through the pain, because in some ways, as much as we have to play, at the same time we can also take off whenever we want. We can stop the season at any given time.

“Tournaments might not like it. Fans might not like it. But at the end of the day, I think everybody understands that also we have to take care of ourselves if we want to achieve longevity on the tour.

“I said in an interview earlier this week, for me it’s actually been easier later on in the season nowadays than it has been at the beginning of my career where you just go all out all the time. Then towards the end you’re sort of running out of steam and you just can’t wait to go on the beach, you know.

“I don’t feel that way because I take enough breaks throughout the season.”

But if he doesn’t beat Berrettini on Tuesday, his next break may be coming sooner than expected.

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