Federer Bids For Unbeaten Group Finish Against Cilic
Typically a picture of calm, regardless of the score, Roger Federer still grapples with much of the same internal dialogues as his peers at crunch times on court. The 36-year-old conceals it better than most, but during a three-set triumph over Alexander Zverev at the Nitto ATP Finals on Tuesday, he admits he let it bubble to the surface at times.
Having already qualified for his 14th semi-final in 15 appearances at the season finale, there is less chance of much frustration showing in his final round-robin clash against No. 7 seed Marin Cilic on Thursday. Even a man playing as freely and confidently as Federer in 2017, though, needs to give himself a pep talk in the heat of battle.
“In some ways I feel like it's been a season where playing freely has served me well. In the bigger moments, I try to smile on the inside and think, you know, like it's all good,” Federer said after his victory over Zverev. “I was getting a bit frustrated with some of the shot selections at 5-1 in the third. I'm talking to myself, saying, ‘What am I even getting upset about? I'm leading 5-1 in the third. I'm one game away from qualifying in the semis. You want to get upset? There's zero reason for that. I think it's important sometimes to remind myself that it's all good.”
It could have been a very different scenario heading into Federer’s and Cilic’s final round-robin clash had the Croat not let slip a 3-1 advantage in the third set against Zverev, and a 3-0 third-set lead against Jack Sock. If Federer was airing his grievances with his play during a win over Zverev, Cilic’s frustrations in two narrow defeats would be understandable.
“Yeah, it is frustrating, absolutely,” Cilic said. “Definitely disappointing in both matches in that third set, being in a good position, putting myself in a good position. But, yeah, unfortunately I didn't close it… It's part of the sport, so I’m just going to try to regroup, get a little bit refreshed, try to play another good match.
“What makes the difference, I think with these top guys, is if you don't take the chances, it's one point here and there. I’m just going to try to be a little bit more stubborn in my preparations maybe for the next match, and hopefully next year.”
Cilic has the aggressive all-round game to beat Federer, as he showed en route to his US Open title in 2014 but the Swiss is playing with a renewed confidence in 2017 as was evidenced in their Wimbledon final. There a blistered and emotional Cilic had no answers, salvaging just eight games in a lop-sided decider. His US Open upset remains the only time in eight FedEx ATP Head2Head clashes he has triumphed.
Cilic rebounded from his Wimbledon heartache to reach semi-finals in Tokyo, Shanghai and Basel leading into his fourth appearance at The O2. Federer, too, brings solid form into the tail end of the season with titles in Shanghai and an eighth Basel triumph, before his withdrawal from the Paris Rolex Masters on the eve of the Nitto ATP Finals to rest his body.
His withdrawal from Paris ended any hope of supplanting Rafael Nadal as the year-end No. 1, but as he said following his victory over Sock, the ranking is just a bonus at this stage of his career.
“In some ways I'm happy he clinched it because he deserves it,” Federer said of Nadal finishing the year at No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings. “And like this, I can focus on playing the tournament, and not having to talk about that at the same time.” With no more talk of No. 1, playing freely is clearly serving him well at The O2 this year.