Federer Clinches Year-end #1 Ranking, Delpo Squeaks Past Verdasco
November 24, 2009 -- Roger Federer clinched the number one spot atop the ATP rankings this evening in The Barclay's ATP Tour Final as he defeated Scotland's Andy Murray. Fans erupted in applause for the Swiss, turning the atmosphere at bit sour toward the hometown hopeful son, an unusual mood for both men to experience.
However, The Barclay's ATP Tour Final is a big blast of tennis, noise and fanfare. Anything should be expected. The eight top men rewarded a ticket to the last hurrah fight for rights of pride and prestige. The matches are staged at The O2 Arena along the Thames River in southeast London -- a vibrant headquarters for sport, music, and specialty shows.
Seen from the outside, The O2 Arena resembles a 21st Century staging center for anything from the production of electronic gadgets to planning for secret military weaponry. High poles with guy wires anchor the mounded structure, turning it into something akin to a sci-fi vision.
The arena is spectacular and the tennis played here is a spectacle. Every match has the intensity of a quarterfinal in a major. Over 17,000 fans fill the seats, at capacity, and 250,000 tickets have been sold for the week, according to Phil Anderton, chief marketing officer for the ATP and the chairman of the event. He characterized it as the fifth Grand Slam with its 1,500 ranking points and a neat $1.6 million going to the winner.
Without a doubt, the best embellishment from courtside seat is the traveling ring of neon news blasts that circle above the lower level, informing fans that a shot was an 'ACE' or it's 'Match Point,' in case you haven't paid attention or know next to nothing about the game. It's good to see that tennis in England can adopt ornamental electronic qualities when just a few miles down the motorway are the hallowed halls of Wimbledon, the hallmark of pristine and traditional tennis accoutrements.
The first match today between #5 Juan Martin del Potro and #8 Fernando Verdasco was an uneven affair that peaked in the third set. One would perform well for a span of time, then the other man would get hot. Del Potro looked beat from the start, as if he'd played a match before his match. But, most fans didn't let appearances fool them.
Verdasco's stats for the match, which he lost 46 63 76 (1), almost surpassed del Potro's. The Spaniard, who is making his first appearance at the year-ending tournament, outdid del Potro on second serve points won -- a percentage that usually points to the winner of a match. But for the three sets del Potro's was 57% where Verdasco's percentage of second serve points won was 78%.
Del Potro, though, played a better match off the ground. He kept his unforced errors in check especially in the third set tiebreak, to which Verdasco contributed six unforced errors. It was as if Verdasco's mind jetted off for an early holiday. This poor display came after del Potro served for the match, up 5/2 in the third. Verdasco then fought so hard to give himself the chance for victory that his mindless mistakes in the tiebreak came off lame.
Verdasco has now lost two matches in the round-robin part of the tournament. There is little hope that he will make it to the weekend with this record.
Roger Federer started slowly against Great Britain's hope of hopes Andy Murray this evening. But once Federer grooved his first serve and engaged his aggressive game style he cruised to a win: 36 63 61. His victory assured the Swiss of the number one ranking for the fifth year in his career.
In the first set, both men's first service percentages teetered around a miserable 40%. Federer was lulled into cross-court backhand exchanges with Murray, a strategy he expects to capitalize on when Federer attempts to change the direction of the ball and draws an unforced error. Standing at the baseline and exchanging groundstrokes isn't Federer's ticket to the finish line, and he knew it.
As the second set got under way, Murray struggled on serve whereas Federer held comfortably. Fans could sense the swing in momentum. In the sixth game, Federer broke Murray to go up 4/2. In the next game, Murray tried to reverse the trend. However, Federer's serve and forehand cooked.
In the third, Federer put the pedal to the metal. He shortened points with approaches and put away shots. Murray, on the other hand, demonstrated superb athleticism when he retrieved out of the way balls. In one exchange, Federer ran Murray over every square inch of the court. Federer appeared to have the point after he looped a backhand over the Scot's head. But, Murray scrambled for the ball, got underneath it and spun around like a ballerina as he hit a backhand crosscourt winner. Fans exploded!
After Federer broke at 2/1, the momentum swing was complete. Federer went after Murray's forehand and second serves. Murray crumbled as Federer closed the match with a wicked forehand drive.
Andy Murray has not transcended his underlying propensity to play as the ultimate defender when, in fact, at the most opportune moments in a match he should attack. His attitude has been well rehearsed and was executed here today. In order for him to come about will take more than a swift shift in his sails, even though he holds leverage in head-to-head competition against Federer.
After this match, the comparison is a bit less lopsided. Murray still commands the lead at 6 to 4, but Federer made it two wins in a row tonight against the #4 player, having beaten him this year at the Cincinnati Masters tournament.