Roger Federer continued his love affair with the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals on Sunday by reaching the title match for the eighth time in 11 appearances at the season-ending championships.
On Monday night, second seed and six-time champion Federer will look to become the first player to win three straight titles since Ivan Lendl in 1987, when he takes on top seed and 2008 winner Novak Djokovic at The O2 in London. Federer leads World No. 1 Djokovic 16-12 in their FedEx ATP Head2Head series.
"It's exciting, no doubt about it. I love playing against Novak," said Federer. "He's had a great year. He's had a great tournament so far... It is a big opportunity playing sort of the last match of the season, and facing off against Novak obviously is always special, especially here at the World Tour Finals."
Federer defeated third seed Andy Murray 7-6(5), 6-2 in one hour and 33 minutes in the semi-finals, hitting 20 winners and winning 13 of his 15 net points. Murray has now lost in the semi-finals on three ocassions.
The 31-year-old Swiss will be attempting to equal John McEnroe’s haul of 77 singles trophies for third-place overall in the all-time title-leaders list. Only Jimmy Connors (109) and Lendl (94) have won more titles in the Open Era (since 1968). By improving to 71-11 in 2012, Federer will also be bidding to win a seventh tour-level title.
A capacity crowd of 17,800 witnessed the 19th installment of Federer and Murray’s rivalry, which was a repeat of this year’s Wimbledon and London 2012 Olympics finals. Murray, with a poppy - embroidered on the left-shoulder shirt-sleeve - in observance of Remembrance Sunday, used fan support to break Federer in the opening game. By the fifth game, the two-time reigning champion was beginning to find his rhythm, despite the fact that Murray continued to mix up his tactics. Federer began to hold serve with little resistance. It spelled trouble.
“I started the match off very well,” admitted Murray, afterwards. “I was going for my shots a lot. I was playing very aggressive on the return. Then he started to serve a little bit better. I missed a few more returns. Then, when he got the break back, he started to play better. I hung on a little bit the end of the first set.”
At 4-3, Murray recovered from 0/30, but Federer converted a break point opportunity by drawing his opponent out wide for a forehand error. When Federer won a third straight game for a 5-4 lead, the balance of power had shifted. The Swiss was eradicating his errors and moving smoothly across the court, while Murray was struggling to win his second service points. The set was decided on a tie-break.
Murray took a 3-1 lead, after Federer mis-timed a backhand wide but he quickly regrouped to level the score. A 13-stroke rally at 4-5, ended when Murray rushed a forehand down the line. Federer was outplayed on his first set point chance, but on serve he made sure. Each player lost just three of their first service points in the opening set, which lasted 62 minutes.
"It was obviously huge," said Federer. "Basically I really tried to pull myself together in this breaker today, where I thought I didn't play great in yesterday's tie-breaker first set against del Potro, and not being able to come back. It was obviously an important moment in the match."
Enjoying the support of a pro-Federer crowd, who had turned out in force with Swiss flags, the second seed used his forehand to great effect to recover three points on Murray’s serve at 1-1. Three drop shot errors by Murray, seemingly running out of ideas and energy, gave Federer a break point opportunity that he converted. Federer lost just two of his 16 service points in the set. He broke Murray for a third time in the match for a 5-2 lead. Three minutes later, Federer received applause from the crowd.
"Of course, I was looking at having lost the last two matches against him, so I thought it was up to me to change things around really and come up with a game plan that maybe was different than at the Olympics or Shanghai," said Federer. "The pressure was really on me. I'm happy with what I chose with my coaching staff today. Obviously the tournament's not over yet, I want to keep on playing well, but I'm happy that the offensive play did pay off and it gives confidence doing more like that in the upcoming match tomorrow."
“I think he played well,” said Murray. “I didn't think it was incredibly high standard in terms of length of points. There were a lot of quick points. I started the match well. He came back in [and] got the tie-break. Once he gets ahead, he's incredibly hard to stop. He tends to play better and better when he gets up. I feel like I gave him that advantage [at] the beginning of the second set.”
Murray had been trying to become the first British player to reach the final in the tournament’s history (since 1970). The 25 year old finished a memorable season with a 56-16 match record. He won the London 2012 Olympics gold medal, his first Grand Slam championship crown at the US Open and Brisbane International. The Scot was also runner-up atWimbledon and in three other finals.