The fourth-ranked Swiss defeated the world No. 6 from France 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 in the opening match of the season-ending championships held at London’s O2 arena.
“He served fantastic, it was really hard to control the rallies from the baseline,” Federer said in a courtside interview. “I’m happy to get off to a good start.”
Federer, 30, had entered the ATP Finals after winning back- to-back titles in Basel, Switzerland, and Paris. For the first time since 2002, the right-hander is playing the ATP Finals without holding one of the year’s four Grand Slam titles. He last won a major at the 2010 Australian Open. His victory in Basel at the start of the month ended a 10-month title drought for the 16-time major champion.
Watched from his box by his family and French soccer player Thierry Henry, Federer overpowered Tsonga in the first set of their seventh meeting this season. He took the set in 21 minutes with three love games on the low-bouncing court. The momentum shifted early in the second set as a Federer forehand sailed wide to hand Tsonga a break for 2-1. Another break came in the seventh game as the Frenchman’s ground strokes finally found their range and Federer’s win percentage on his serve dipped. Tsonga took the set as Federer dumped a backhand into the net.
In the final set, play went on serve until the 10th game when Federer set up three match points as he attacked the Tsonga serve with deep returns. The Swiss won the match with a backhand passing shot on his second match point.
Tsonga, 26, also lost to Federer in the final of last week’s Paris Masters. The Frenchman had got the better of the six-time Wimbledon champion at the All England Club in June, when he turned a two sets to love deficit into a five-set win in the quarterfinals.
“He played an amazing match against me at Wimbledon, and he deserved to win,” Federer said. “Today, again it was close.”
The ATP Finals are played in a round-robin format, with the top eight singles and doubles players on the ATP rankings divided into two groups. Each will face the three others in the group, with the top two in each section moving into the knockout semifinals.
Before the tournament, Federer had been the 15-8 favorite at U.K. bookmaker William Hill Plc to successfully defend his title. That means a successful $8 bet would return $15 plus the original stake. Third-ranked Andy Murray of Britain was second favorite at 11-4, followed by world No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia at 4-1 and second-ranked Rafael Nadal of Spain at 5-1.
In the other singles match in Group B today, Nadal plays No. 8 Mardy Fish, the only American in the field. Nadal last year reached the finals in London, where he lost to Federer, who tied Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl with five season-ending championship titles. Fish, who is 30 next month, is making his debut at the championships after the best year of his career.
Djokovic and Murray are set to play their first group matches tomorrow. The Serb, the winner of 10 titles this season including the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open, faces seventh-ranked Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic, while Murray plays Spain’s world No. 5, David Ferrer.
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