Roger Federer is through to the last four of the ATP Finals. The six-time champion may not have been at his very best against Kevin Anderson but he was more than good enough and is showing rapid signs of improvement after his dreary start to the tournament.
Defeating Anderson, one of the form players this week, 6-4, 6-3 will serve as a powerful warning to the remainder of the field and likely ensures he will not meet Novak Djokovic until Sunday’s final if they both get that far.
After a convincing defeat to Kei Nishikori on Sunday night it seemed possible, perhaps even likely, that Federer would not make the knockout stages. His decision to cancel practice sessions at Queen’s Club led to questions over his fitness but it has proven to be an inspired decision as the 37-year-old looked fresher, mentally and physically, than his opponent.
“The first match was tough against Kei, I never got going,” Federer said. "With my back against the wall, maybe it is easier for me to play.
“These round-robin formats are not as straightforward as you think. We’re used to you lose, you leave. From that standpoint it was more straightforward for me and also maybe more difficult for Kevin because he knew he was qualified.
“The body is feeling really good I must say. I still have some energy left in the tank. It has been a long year for all of us… Even though I’m not the youngest I’m happy with how I’m playing. I just want to enjoy myself, play one more good match and we’ll see what happens.”
Anderson carried his impressive form from two victories over earlier in the group stages but he seemed to struggle with the atmosphere of an arena that could scarcely have been more partisan had it been transported to Basel. Federer’s arrival on court was greeted with 105 dB of noise - the cheers for his first point were no less ecstatic. The same was true when the South African double-faulted twice to hand a first break to his opponent in the seventh game of the match.
Federer immediately threw away the initiative but that proved to be a wake-up call for the 20-time Grand Slam champion, who secured a break to love with the most delicate of backhand volleys.
Anderson would not concede top spot in Group Lleyton Hewitt easily but Federer was remorseless in the second, pouncing on second serves with brutality. His opponent’s 81 per cent win rate on first serve points in the set contrasted sharply with the mere 29 per cent he won on his second.
As Anderson offered Federer more looks at that second the end was in sight, the second seed breaking in the seventh and then again in the ninth to secure a comprehensive victory that will be keenly noted by Djokovic et al.