At neither the women’s nor the men’s year-end championships has a player among the lower four seeds defeated a player among the upper four seeds. With only one day still to play before the London semifinals arrive, Federer and Ferrer hope to clinch their spots by preserving that perfect record.
Federer (2-0) vs. Del Potro (1-1): Seeking his thirteenth consecutive victory at the year-end championships, Federer swept through London undefeated in 2010-11 and has looked hardly less formidable through a pair of straight-sets victories to start his week. Even a relatively unspectacular performance against Ferrer, which featured squandered opportunities and a modest first-serve percentage, never caused his fans serious concern. As he often has this year, Federer asserted his superiority by seizing an early lead and, although he did not sustain it, built a foundation of confidence from it that bolstered him when the sets stayed close. Since either Djokovic or Murray looms on Sunday, he must resist the temptation of looking too far ahead against an opponent who won their last meeting in addition to their only career tilt at the year-end championships. Dismantling the moribund Tipsarevic as easily as did Federer, Del Potro regrouped from an uneven effort against Ferrer with a flatter forehand and more reliable serve. A finalist in London three years ago, he enjoyed a far more impressive fall season than did the Swiss, culminating with a victory over him in the Basel final.
Before that startling result, Federer had throttled Del Potro on hard courts throughout 2012 with victories that had appeared to grow more rather than less routine. Among them was a straight-sets Australian Open quarterfinal and an embarrassing rout at Indian Wells during which the Argentine emitted hardly a spark of resistance or the belief necessary to muster it. From nowhere, then, came his near-upset of Federer at the Olympics and the Basel ambush, where he lured the older man into playing his brand of power-driven tennis. The willingness to contest that match on his opponent’s terms cost the Swiss in his two 2009 losses to Del Potro at the US Open and the year-end championships, whereas his commitment to nuance and versatility set the stage for his more recent victories. A player who depends upon a baseline rhythm, the Tower of Tandil finds his finest form when he can fight fire with fire in rallies built upon pure pace, but he struggles when an opponent varies spins and speeds. Also reliant on instinct for most of his prime, Federer owes as much of his late-career success to strategy as to talent. In a match likely to feature few break points amidst a procession of comfortable holds, his alertness in seizing opportunities should prove the difference. Federer in three
Ferrer (1-1) vs. Tipsarevic (0-2): If Del Potro wins the matinee match, this evening encounter will become a virtual dead rubber between two players already eliminated. For Tipsarevic, it remains a dead rubber no matter what happens earlier, for his disastrous week has guaranteed that his season ends on Saturday. In a field filled with the elite, the lack of a respite sometimes does not spare even a top-ten threat from embarrassment, and the second-ranked Serb has looked as hapless as his compatriot has looked authoritative in round-robin play. Tipsarevic lost twelve consecutive games during one stretch from the end of his first match through the start of the second, and he has won just eight games in total through two matches. With those humiliations fresh in his memory, he probably will lack the psychological resilience to grind past a determined Ferrer, especially if the Spaniard retains hope following a Federer victory. An enigmatic competitor throughout his career, Tipsarevic has appeared to tank matches or issue retirements when discouraged or disengaged, and the prospect of extra points and money should not prove a significant incentive to a player of this level.
Also favoring Ferrer is the aftermath of their recent meeting at the US Open, an epic quarterfinal during which each man positioned himself to win well before it finally ended in a fifth-set tiebreak decided by a single mini-break. While that result will have depleted Tipsarevic’s confidence, it illustrated the fourth seed’s appetite for battle as well as his superior fitness. That match offers the only relevant evidence from their history, which includes no other meetings since well before the Serb’s surge last year. His loss to Federer notwithstanding, Ferrer has played with conviction through his first two matches and not hesitated to take the initiative on a surface that rewards it. More aggressive in his court positioning and shot placement, he managed to frustrate Del Potro with penetrating groundstroke depth as well as alert anticipation. The US Open match suggested that Tipsarevic will struggle to hit through Ferrer’s elastic court coverage, for his modest size limits the power of his groundstrokes except when he steps well inside the baseline. In neutral rallies, few outlast the Spanish master of consistency unless they can find the patience to construct point after point one stroke at a time. Patience does not rank among Tipsarevic’s salient virtues, so Ferrer should prevail without needing to leave his comfort zone if he brings the same steadiness that secured him the Paris title. Unlike shot-making and precision serving, neither speed nor defense ever slumps. Ferrer in two