Roger Federer might have seen his tennis Grand Slam record equalled by Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in recent times. However, there is still one record in tennis that he holds with distinction.
Federer is the only male tennis star to have won 6 year-end ATP Championships. The tournament, now known as the ATP Finals, always takes place at the end of the season.
The tournament is well known for serving up classics, given it only features the absolute top-ranked players. And winning it is almost as prestigious as a Grand Slam title win.
The Swiss maestro has found himself on the winning side more than any other male tennis player in history. But before he held the record, he had to equal the previous record – which was held by both Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl.
As it turns out, Federer equalled their tally exactly 11 years ago on this day. And he did so by beating out the man whom many consider his greatest rival – Rafael Nadal.
— Ladbrokes (@Ladbrokes) November 28, 2018
Let us now look back at the tournament and how Roger Federer became a history-maker in the sport of tennis yet again.
Going into the tournament, everyone was well aware that a Federer-Nadal final would be a possibility. Nadal was seeded first and Federer second, meaning they would be on opposite ends of the draw. Thus they would either meet in the final or not at all.
As expected, both dominated their respective groups. Nadal was drawn into Group A alongside Novak Djokovic, Tomas Berdych and Andy Roddick. Federer was in Group B alongside Robin Soderling, Andy Murray and David Ferrer.
Both Federer and Nadal would get through the group stages unbeaten, and thus topped the standings. Federer beat Soderling 7-6(5), 6-3, Murray was dispatched 6-4, 6-2 and Ferrer 6-1, 6-4.
Nadal beat Djokovic 7-5, 6-2, Berdych 7-6(3), 6-1 and Roddick 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4. In the semis, Federer would face Djokovic while Nadal would face Murray.
Of these two, it was Nadal who was tested more in their last four clash. He won the first set 7-6(5) but Murray countered by winning the second set 6-3.
The final set required another tie-break and once again it was Nadal who won it. He finished the match with a 7-6(6) win in the deciding set.
Federer, for his part, breezed past Djokovic with a 6-1, 6-4 win in which he wasn’t tested too much. In fact, Federer had yet to drop a single set so far in the tournament.
Thus he was the slight favourite going into the final. But Nadal always saved his best tennis for when he faced Federer, so one could never be too sure.
Given how their respective semi-finals went, it was perhaps little surprise that Roger Federer came into the match a little more well-rested.
However, Federer was in imperious form from the word go. He served fluently in the first set and pushed Nadal on the defensive. Thus, it was little wonder when he won the first set 6-3.
But something happened in the second set that handed Nadal a lifeline – Federer lost his serving momentum. Not quite able to attain the consistency he is used to, Nadal sensed an opening and managed a break of serve.
The Spaniard won the second set 6-3, and many thought this would set up a thrilling final set. Yet that wasn’t exactly what happened. Indeed, the final set was anti-climatic and seemed destined to only head one way.
Federer found his best and, when he is in the zone, few if any can match him. He duly took the final set 6-1 – and with it the match and the championship.
Afterwards, a clearly knackered Nadal admitted that he lost to the better man on the day. “At the beginning he was unplayable,” he said after the match.
“Don’t want to say I lost because I was tired. I lost to a very good Roger Federer. I had chances but it was not enough.”
The win was sweet for Federer for two reasons. One, because he equalled idol Pete Sampras’ record of five year-end titles.
Secondly, he did it on the anniversary of the day Sampras notched up the feat; the American won his own fifth year-end title on November 28, 1999.
A year later, Roger Federer would become the outright record holder for most number of year-end championships. And while that might have been his last ATP Finals championship till date, it is a record that still stands.
Nadal, amazingly, has yet to win a year-ending championship. He has made the finals twice; first in 2010 and then in 2013. On both occasions he would end up on the losing side.