November 13, 2011

The Master, Back at Work

Shame on you for giving up on Roger Federer. Shame!

The sixteen-time Major winner may have gone Slam-less for the first time since 2003, and he may have dropped a few spots in the rankings, but that certainly doesn't mean he's no longer relevant. And that's exactly what he spent the past week proving.

Fresh off his fifth title in Basel -- his first since Doha in January -- the Swiss Mister came to Paris running the best streak he'd had in quite some time. And with long-time rival Rafael Nadal withdrawing from the event and this year's hot-shot Novak Djokovic struggling with injury all fall, Federer had one of the best chances he's had all year to make a splash.

Federer made quick work of his opponents en route to his first ever Bercy final -- he'd never gotten past the semis here before. He overcame an early deficit against a resurgent Juan Monaco in the quarters and avenged a loss to Tomas Berdych in Cincy a day later. Somewhat surprisingly, it was only the second time he was playing for a title since the French Open.

Meanwhile in the other half of the draw, recent London qualifier Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was looking to improve on his stellar autumn, which already included trophies in Metz and Vienna. He sealed his spot at the O2 after making the quarters, and received a bit of a break when Djokovic's withdrawal gave him automatic entrée into the semis. He struggled a bit against big-serving John Isner on Saturday, dropping the first set -- but even though he was never able to break the American's serve, he ground out the win after two tiebreaks and nearly three hours.

The battle must have taken it's toll on the Frenchman during Sunday's match. Though he earned two break chances on Roger in the first game -- mostly thanks to errors by the former #1 -- Tsonga couldn't convert and quickly found himself in a 0-5 hole. Federer closed out the first set easily, but faced a tougher test in the second. Tsonga nearly took advantage of a break opportunity in eighth game, but a challenge by the third seed set the score straight and the pair went to a tiebreak. From the start, though, it was all Federer, and after less than ninety minutes of play, he had captured his second title in as many weeks.

The win puts momentum squarely on Federer's side as he prepares to defend his title in London. Now 12-0 since the U.S. Open, he's boasting the best record among the qualifiers, and could very well translate that into yet another year-end championship -- what would be his fifth. That's not bad for a guy who, not very long ago, seemed to have lost a bit of his step. Clearly Federer still has the talent to take pretty much any opponent by storm -- and we've seen the past two weeks he also has the hunger to do it.

And as long as he keeps playing like this, it doesn't look like anyone's safe.

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