After the dramatic three-setters that unfolded in Group A on Wednesday, the intrigue might dip on Thursday when both Group B matches feature pairs of players with lopsided histories against each other. That said, the fall season has witnessed many a startling reversal of fortune before, though, so one should not discount either underdog too quickly
Federer (1-0) vs. Ferrer (1-0): Narrowly ahead of him in age, Federer leads the Spaniard by the intimidating score of 13-0 in their previous meetings, including straight-sets dismissals in each of the last two London events and a demolition in the final of the year-end championships five years ago. Away from clay, in fact, he has lost just one of twenty sets played against Ferrer, whose stingy defense has availed him little on fast surfaces against the Swiss star’s pinpoint command. Towards the end of their careers, as the latter grows less consistent, one might expect their rivalry to shift closer towards equilibrium with the Spaniard’s fine returning, crisp passing shots, and tireless durability increasingly able to exploit the declining first-serve percentage, dulling reflexes, and waning consistency across the net. Just as significant to Federer’s dominance as any technical feature of his game, though, is Ferrer’s absence of confidence against the top four on surfaces other than clay. Once calling himself the worst player in the top 100, he long has deserved credit for vastly overachieving his potential in a way that should inspire younger talents. But he shrank from the spotlight like a moth from a flame—until circumstances converged ideally for him to break through in Paris, becoming the first man outside the top four to win a Masters 1000 shield since 2010.
That achievement may embolden Ferrer against the men ranked around and above him moving forward, and hints to that effect emerged from his three-set victory over Del Potro. While he displayed his familiar strengths often enough, the world #5 displayed more offense than usual by striking corners of the box with his serve and closing off the net confidently for volley winners rarely associated with him. On the other hand, Federer needed less than 70 minutes to roll through his opening match in a manner less befitting a 31-year-old fading star than the man who has won a record six titles at this tournament. If Ferrer has reached new heights lately, his nemesis revitalized his career earlier in a year notable for the successes of veterans who should have passed their prime long ago. The world #1 until this week, Federer remains the best player in the world on indoor hard courts despite his loss to Del Potro in Basel. Ferrer might remember that Davydenko halted a 12-match losing streak to the GOAT on this court three years ago, en route to the title, but #14 looks no less unlucky than #13 with the fine form that his rival already has found. Federer in two
Del Potro (0-1) vs. Tipsarevic (0-1): As their conquerors of Tuesday battle for mastery of Group B, the two lower-ranked men in the Group set their sights on consecutive victories in what has become a single-elimination tournament for them. Now without margin for error, Del Potro will rue the poor service game that he played against Ferrer at 4-5 in the third set, spraying unforced errors from his forehand after he had mounted a comeback from a daunting 1-4 deficit. Still baffled by the Spaniard despite his dramatic advantage in size, the former US Open champion likely must defeat Federer on Saturday to prolong his hopes of reaching a second final in London. Tempted to look ahead, he may risk complacency against an opponent who has not won a set from him in three meetings (all on hard courts) and brings a far inferior career resume to this tilt. Perhaps more concerning to Del Potro’s fans is the aftermath of an ambitious fall schedule, which produced consecutive titles in Vienna and Basel before appearing to leave him drained for Paris. The victim of his own success, he looked sluggish along the baseline at times against Ferrer, while his forehand found its customary sting only for short stretches amidst passages of tired-looking swings from a heavy arm.
To be sure, one could forgive Del Potro for feeling complacent in view of Tipsarevic’s effort, or what passed for the term against Federer on Monday. Falling behind from the outset, the second-ranked Serb never evinced belief that he could win even as the occasional winner spurted from his racket. Once the second set arrived, his resistance evaporated instead of stiffening, so Del Potro could secure more than an early lead if he follows Federer’s example of pouncing on Tipsarevic immediately. An offensively oriented player, his modest size notwithstanding, the eighth seed probably will not wear down the Argentine as did Ferrer. In their previous meetings, he has followed the unsuccessful strategy of finishing the rallies before Del Potro can outhit him from the baseline, taking all-or-nothing swings that produce their share of all but end the match with nothing. Tipsarevic cannot equal his opponent’s weight of shot, so he must rely on the clean timing that enables him to redirect groundstrokes and the unpredictable serve placement central to this shot’s success. Although the court’s low bounce favors him more than the lanky Del Potro, his short wingspan leaves him at a disadvantage when attempting to parry the flat blows with which the Argentine opens the court. Del Potro in two