LONDON: Roger Federer’s unique appeal showed no sign of waning on Sunday as he gate-crashed what was supposed to be Andy Murray’s party in the semi-finals of the ATP World Tour Finals.
Up against Britain’s first male grand slam champion for 76 years and an Olympic gold medallist for good measure, the 17,000 crowd at the O2 Arena should by rights have been roaring for Murray as he attempted to reach the final of the prestigious year-ending tournament for the first time.
As it turned out Federer charmed them with the kind of dazzling tennis that has captivated crowds around the globe for the best part of a decade in which he has won 17 grand slams.
Overpowered in the opening games and struggling to stay with the Scot, a repeat of Murray’s easy victory over Federer in the Olympics final looked a possibility.
Federer, lethal indoors, however came up with just about every shot in his vast armoury to claim a 7-6 6-2 victory and will contest the year’s final match for the eighth time in the last 11 years.
World number one Novak Djokovic stands between Federer and a seventh Tour Finals crown. Popular as the 25-year-old Serb is, seven-times Wimbledon champion Federer is revered in London like a favourite son.
“It’s something definitely that makes playing, well, easier to be quite honest,” the 31-year-old Swiss told reporters when asked if he was ever surprised by the goodwill that flows his way, whether it be in London, Paris or New York.
“I guess because I’ve been in the game for so long, I do have many people who just enjoy watching me play or feel like it’s a throwback maybe to the back-in-the-day times when they used to play with one-handed backhands, and they like me because of those things.
“I don’t know what it is, but I do get a lot of support and do it appreciate it.”
“We have played here twice before, and twice the crowds were amazing, electric, and sometimes even in my favor. So today was somewhat similar again,” he added.
There was plenty for his fans to admire against Murray, who after initially threatening to blow Federer off court with some forceful tennis ended up under the Swiss maestro’s spell.
Federer recovered from an early break of serve before playing a superb tiebreak, setting up a set point after winning a 22-stroke rally of breathtaking quality.
Once ahead the second set became a masterclass.
A stupendous backhand half-volley from near the baseline flashed past a stunned Murray and the daring nature of Federer’s charges to the net were a reminder of an age when volleying was regarded as an art form.
“Obviously they don’t serve and volley as much anymore,” Federer said. “This allows you to throw in the occasional chip and charge. It’s a great feeling if it works.
“Today it worked out, so I’m happy. Don’t know if I’m going to throw in those kind of plays tomorrow. But Novak is probably going to have a word to say about that.”