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Roger Federer Notches First Win In London At The 2019 ATP Nitto Tennis Championships

By Alix Ramsay

And, ladies and gentlemen, he’s back. He may not be back to quite the level that he wants, but compared to Sunday night, he is on his way. Roger Federer has notched up his first win of the Nitto ATP Finals.

He beat Matteo Berrettini 7-6, 6-3 in a swift 78 minutes on Tuesday afternoon to keep alive his chances of qualifying from the group stage of the tournament. That is the good news. The slightly less positive news is that he still has the not inconsiderable problem of Novak Djokovic to solve on Thursday. Still, he had his win and that was all that mattered for now.

After playing well enough at times against Dominic Thiem in his opening match – but never well enough when it mattered – this was a step forward for the six-time champion. And at least he had shaken off the frustrations of that early loss.

“There’s no reason to be too down,” he said about that defeat. “We came here to play three matches and give it all we have. It was the big goal of the season to qualify here, which we did.

“I had a day off and there’s plenty of ways to get rid of that loss. Hanging out with my kids will do that for me. I was ready and prepared today. That’s what matters the most right now.”

He certainly didn’t look too downhearted as he got to work on Berrettini. They only time they had met before was at Wimbledon in the fourth round. It was the Italian’s first match on Centre Court and he kept complaining that he couldn’t see what was happening, what was going on. The main reason for that on an overcast day was that Fed was racing into the quarter-finals like a jet-propelled whippet: three sets sped by in 74 minutes and Berrettini only collected five games.

Big Matteo, he of the huge serve and the forehand that could fell an oak from 50 paces, played much better this time but, even so, it was all going at lightning pace. The first nine games flew by in 25 minutes and the average length of the rallies was just three shots. Not only was there no time for errors, there was no time to draw breath.

As for chances, there weren’t any, not until the very end of the first set. At last, Fed thought, here is a chance to break. Just the one, mind you, as Matteo served to stay in the set. But the moment soon passed as the big bloke from Rome welted another forehand. On then, to the tiebreak.

That is where Fed started to look like Fed. He took the early lead, ran away with the decider and immediately broke to love to start the second set. After a close start to the match (Fed’s forehand was not behaving itself), he had won 10 of 11 points to take control. Or so he thought.

Life was looking so rosy for the Swiss that his mind appeared to wander. Another day off tomorrow – where to take the kids? I wonder if we will get invited round to Buckingham Place again… and if so, do we take a cake? While Fed pondered, Matteo dug in.

The Italians may not have a very good record at the end-of-year bash – they have yet to win a match – but Matteo was not going without a fight. He clamped down on the errors and then held his first break points of the match: three of them. And then Fed took them away again. It was not easy – those errors were still driving him to distraction – but he was homing in on his first win. Even if there was some dark muttering in Swiss German when his 12th forehand error cost him the chance of a first match point (what is the Swiss German for “go in, you bugger, go in”?), he was only a few seconds from victory.

“I’m very happy with how I played today,” Fed said, now smiling and relaxed. “Matteo was always going to be difficult with his big serve but I was pretty clean in my own service games and I think that helped today. I hope I can keep it up and maybe even play a bit better in the next match.”

The next match – that is going to be tricky. The last time Fed played Djokovic, he did play better, a good deal better: he held two championships points in the Wimbledon final. And he still lost. It took him the duration of a caravan holiday in Switzerland (Fed, Mirka, all the kids, some friends, their kids; it was not exactly a restful week) to erase the memories of that Sunday afternoon in SW19. But that was more than three months ago; now he feels he is ready for the challenge again.

“I think it’s all flushed away from my side,” Fed said. “A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then and I think we both look back at a great match.

“I think we both can take away some confidence from the match. Him obviously a lot. Me maybe a tad bit less, but at the end of the day, I don’t know — I wasn’t hoping him not to be in my section or in my draw. I didn’t hope I was never going to play him again.

“Actually, it’s good for me to play him again, and maybe that all helps to get a chance to get him back or whatever it is, but at the end of the day, I’m here for the World Tour Finals and not because of the Wimbledon finals.

“It’s logical to be asked, it’s fine, but I’m personally excited to play against Novak on Thursday.”

They have played 48 times – Djokovic has won 26 of those encounters – and the last time Fed won was four years ago at the O2 in the round robin stage. Not that it made much difference, though: a few days later Djokovic got his own back by beating Fed in straight sets in the final. It’s kind of been that way ever since.

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