Roger Federer stands triumphant after a stormy season. AFP PHOTO / ADRIAN DENNIS via Daylife.com
Roger Federer won a tight, tense contest against worthy foe Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final match of the ATP season on Sunday, winning the ATP World Tour finals: 6-3, 6-7(6), 6-3. This victory gives Roger a record six year ending championship titles, a load of confidence and a kings ransom in prize money ($1,630,000 for an undefeated champion.)
The number one thing I took away from this week, and finally, this match, was the belief that Roger has finally exorcised the nasty case of the “winning willies” that have plagued him this season. Unlike, say, during those losses from two sets to love up vs. Jo Wilfried Tsonga in the Wimbledon quarters and vs. Novak Djokovic in the US Open semis (oh, the agony of those two match points!), Roger kept his game and his nerves under control in the O2 arena. I admit I wasn’t quite convinced of it until I saw the trophy in his hands. When he failed to serve out the match up 5-4 in the second set, then squandered a championship point in the tiebreaker, I think Roger was as aware as the most morbid of his fans: Things were getting dicey. So when he found a way to consolidate his lead in the third set and serve out the match with aplomb, it felt like more than a great victory. It felt like he’d finally made it through to the other side.
Funny enough, Federer seems to be as relieved and excited as his fans. He opens up about the doubts that nagged him this season and just how much this sixth title means to him. (Selections of the presser via the RogerFederer.com forum).
Q. How does that rate? Another record. Six titles. No one has done that before. How do you think you actually played in the match?
ROGER FEDERER: Well, it feels very special, indeed. I mean, you know, I’ve been trying to sort of block it out for the entire tournament, the entire time I’ve been here in London. I just tried to recuperate from Basel and Paris and hopefully get through the round robin stages.
So now it’s finally sort of reality that I’ve been able to win six World Tour Finals. It’s an amazing feeling. I know it’s one of my greatest accomplishments.
As well as the way the match went, I think. I think that was the difference to other matches this year, where I lost so closely, and this time around I was still able to find a way through. I think that was the difference at times during the year which didn’t maybe make this an absolutely phenomenal year.
But this definitely is an amazing finish again to the season. I’ve never finished so strong. I thought I played well. Look, I thought Jo played well. Could I have won it easier? I guess. I had it in my hands. I had a chance to go a double break in the second. I had chances to serve it out. I had chances in the tiebreaker. Yeah, it wasn’t meant to be.
I had to go through the third set, which was tough, but eventually I made it, which felt probably even better going through three sets. The relief was amazing. The joy, of course, as you can imagine, was great.
Q. You talked about the fact that this time you managed to win a close match, maybe a few times this season it hasn’t gone your way. What made the difference today? Is it a mental thing?
ROGER FEDERER: I think it’s a mental thing, yes. Not only. Sometimes it’s also the player playing better than you. Jo played better than me at Wimbledon. Maybe not much, but enough just to come through. Same as Rafa at the French Open in the finals, Novak in the semis of the US Open. It’s fine to respect that. But I feel when it happens maybe that often, I do have to question myself that maybe I did something wrong.
I think I’m mentally good right now. That was also one of the reasons why I did take some time off, to actually think it through, you know, get into the right mental mindset because we do I don’t want to say underestimate or overestimate the mental part of the game, but there is a lot of time that goes by out on tour, during a match, you’re just trying to stay positive, but you can’t always be positive out there. You know, it’s just too difficult. That’s where maybe the doubts were just a bit too strong during certain important moments.
I think I didn’t have those doubts now for the remainder of the season, which is what I wanted to get out of my system during this six weeks’ break, and I was able to do that.
Q. You haven’t lost since the US Open. Is still the biggest regret of your year the match point that you didn’t make against Djokovic? Also, before, Tsonga said you have won everything, your career is perfect, but you’re missing the Olympic Games and the Davis Cup. Is the Davis Cup a priority for you or is it not anymore?
ROGER FEDERER: No, I mean, I said it. I don’t think the match against Novak was my biggest disappointment of the season. It wasn’t the finals. So I felt like my chances were there as much at the French Open against Rafa. I mean, that would have been an amazing accomplishment to beat Rafa in the finals of the French Open. So I look back on that one with maybe a few more regrets. I know I was one point away from getting to the US Open final, but it all happened in a moment. It was past.
I think for me, most important is the reaction I show after losses like this. Because it was a tough loss, like you mentioned. It was one that hurt. It was one that makes you wonder, How in the world can I end up losing this match? But Novak had such great momentum going this season, you just felt like it was his season.
But to bounce back and not lose a match from that moment on I think shows, again, how tough I am, the right decisions I can take. I also lost to Jo twice in a row at Wimbledon and in Montréal. Now I beat him four straight times. These are the kinds of reactions I expect from myself.
So to come through and prove it to myself was a great feeling.
Q. Talking about when you had that mental freshening up during your break, did you speak to anyone? Did you go back and look at your old matches? What was the process you went through?
ROGER FEDERER: It was a lot, you know, talking to Severin and Paul and Pierre and so forth, my team. Obviously, my wife, as well. Just going through things, how they are going on tour, how I would like them to be. Everybody bring in their own ideas, giving their own opinions, because in some way winning solves everything.
When you do lose, a lot of more problems come out. You see a lot more problems than there actually are. It’s like in the press room, not everyone can win the tournament, so they say you played poorly because you lost. I don’t always agree with that. It’s someone on a team that can create that vibe.
For me it was important to step back and sort of have that bird’s view from up top and say, Where am I right now in my year? It’s been a good year. I know I’ve been playing well, I’ve been healthy. When is all this hard work going to pay off?
I just had to stick with it and have the right mindset, which I then had obviously coming back.
Q. The way you played the last few weeks, especially this week, do you feel like the best player in the world?
ROGER FEDERER: No, I mean, who cares. I felt like I played great during these last few weeks, like you mentioned. I felt I played great here in London. It gives me a lot of confidence for next year.
But regardless of how it went here, I would have been in a good state of mind for next year. And I think that counts for all the other top guys as well. I think it’s been a good year and a good championships for most of the top eight players. I think most of them are looking forward to next year starting again at some point.
For me, it was the strongest finish I’ve ever had in my career, which I’m very proud of. I’m looking forward to next year. So I’m really excited.
Speaking of next year, the 2012 season and the Australian Open will be upon us in January. Roger will enter it with major momentum on his side, but much will also depend on the rest of the field. A naysayer or worrywart could point to Roger’s 2010 WTF title and the limited positive effect it had on his 2011 season. But that’s a conversation for another day – for now, let’s take a page from Roger’s playbook and calm our doubts and anxieties. Spend the off season savoring the sweet, pure taste of victory.
A quick congrats to the doubles team of Daniel Nestor and Max Mirnyi, who won the year ending championships vs. the Polish paring of Mariusz Fyrstenberg and Marcin Matkowski. Like Fed, the doubles champs didn’t lose a match this week.