London: Roger Federer celebrated his record-breaking 40th victory at the ATP Tour Finals by taking a trip down memory lane, as the Swiss star recalled his breakthrough performances at the season-ending event.
Federer’s 6-3, 6-1 win over Janko Tipsarevic at London’s O2 Arena on Tuesday kicked off his bid for a seventh Tour Finals title in suitably emphatic fashion and shattered Ivan Lendl’s record of 39 career match wins at the tournament in the process.
The 31-year-old now holds the records for both match wins and titles in the prestigious competition and the landmark achievement triggered a bout of nostalgia from Federer during his post-match press conference.
Asked if he could recall his first taste of the Tour Finals, Federer instantly named all the details of his maiden appearance at the event, a 6-3, 6-4 win over Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero in 2003 when it was called the Masters Cup and staged in Shanghai.
“I remember being extremely excited having qualified so when I played Juan Carlos, who was sort of my age, I was very excited,” Federer said.
“That was a big moment for me because I was hoping to do well and increase my ranking. That’s exactly what it did. I think I finished sixth in the world that year. I have really great memories from that tournament.”
Federer clinched the first three of his 40 Tour Finals victories that year before losing to Lleyton Hewitt in the semi-finals, but he had to wait only 12 months to win the title for the first time.
By now the event was held in Houston and Federer spoiled hopes of an American celebration by defeating Andy Roddick in the semi-finals and Andre Agassi in the final.
“That was obviously a huge breakthrough for me because I thought I was in the toughest group with (David) Nalbandian, Ferrero and Agassi, all three baseline players,” Federer said.
“It’s like the worst situation for me because I used to like to come in, keep the rallies short.
“I just lost to Nalbandian at the US Open before that, but I decided that I’ll try to play him from the baseline and see if it works. Next thing you know, I was beating Agassi in the final as well.
“That gave me an amazing confidence. It was definitely one of the big tournaments for me, turning it around, playing much better from the baseline than I actually thought I could.”
While Federer is still going strong at 31, many of his peers from those early appearances in the Tour Finals have long since retired, with the likes of Roddick and Ferrero also hanging up their racquets this year.
Federer, who won his 17th Grand Slam title this year, has no plans to quit just yet, but he respects those who decide to bow out before age withers their talent.
“My first feeling is I’m a bit sad because I love watching them play. They could easily still play the tour today,” he said.
“The likes of Andy and Juan Carlos only just retired. It’s just not what they want to be doing any longer. They decide to hang up the racquets. I respect that in a big way.
“I always wish them all the best because there is a life after tennis. There must be.
“I like those two guys, and other guys that came from my generation as well, who have marked the sport, motivated me, admired me, crushed some dreams of mine.
“I always feel sad when I have to do the video message for a player when he retires.
“It’s not really what I want to do, but I’m happy because I know it might mean a lot to them.”