London | Federer marks return to the O2 with a win
It was like “happy” Roger Federer had never been away as he began his bid for a magnificent seventh title at the ATP World Tour finals with a 6-4 7-6 win over American Jack Sock.
Federer, 36, who missed last year’s event during six months out injured, has secured the Australian Open and Wimbledon crowns for Grand Slams 18 and 19 in 2017.
And he is desperate to end his “perfect season” – in which he has lost just four times – by lifting the end-of-term championship at the rocking 02 Arena in south London.
The second set was tight, I missed some opportunities, the breaker could have gone either way and in the end, he helped me with some double faults and some mistakes. I'm really happy that I got through somehow Roger Federer
Federer, in his 15th appearance at the finals sponsored by Nitto in place of Barclays Bank said: “I got off to a great start, my big hope was I was going to be able to play a bit more freely after that.
“The second set was tight, I missed some opportunities, the breaker could have gone either way and in the end, he helped me with some double faults and some mistakes. I’m really happy that I got through somehow.”
The Swiss, who last won the event six years ago, did not give away a single break point and only dropped four points on his serve.
He made a flying start by breaking Sock, who earned his spot by lifting the Paris Masters crown, and sealed the opening set in a mere 36-minutes.
But his 25-year-old opponent made a fist of the second set as Federer failed to take five break points presented to him by the 25-year-old new United States No.1.
At least Sock had the satisfaction of forcing Federer to a tie-break for the first time in their four meetings. But he eventually gifted Federer a match point with a double fault and the six-time champion took it.
Federer last won the season-ending title back in 2011, but he is rated favourite with reigning champion Andy Murray and 2016 runner-up Novak Djokovic absent through injury, and Rafa Nadal complaining of a knee problem.
He said: “It’s wonderful to be back, especially after missing last year with injury.
“It was tough not to be here but at the same time I really enjoyed the battle for number one between Andy and Novak.”
The only minor hiccup for Federer came when Sock chose to present his backside as a target for the Swiss to aim at in the first set which he fluffed.
Federer smiled and said: “It was a big distraction, I’ll tell you that, because it was very big. That’s what I should have aimed for. That target was bigger than the down-the-line court that I had. It’s happened sometimes in the past, but not on a big stage like this.”
Sock said: “I did it more for fun. I probably do it three times a year. It’s not a normal tactic.”
Federer faces Alexander Zverev on Tuesday on Tuesday following the 20-year-old’s deefat of Marin Cilic in the evening match. The oung German overcame a 3-1 deficit in the third set to be at the Croat 6-4 4-6 6-4.
“I felt a little bit nervous coming out for the first time here. I think that’s normal for anyone that is playing here for the first time,” Zverev, who has beaten the great Swiss this year in Montreal, admitted. “I’m very happy to get my first win in this group.”
Meanwhile, world No.1 Rafa Nadal, who begins his campaign against Belgian David Goffin on Monday night, received a trophy for finishing the year back on top of the rankings after a sensational comeback year in which he took the French and US Open titles.
Spaniard Nadal said: “It has been a fantastic season, a very emotional one after all of the things I have been going through in the last couple of years with injury.
“To have this trophy again is something I never thought was possible.”
Austrian Dominic Thiem faces Grigor Dmitrov of Bulgaria on Monday afternoon.
- Quotes from the BBC and The Sun