With Djokovic and Nadal safely into the semi-finals and Richard Gasquet and David Ferrer all but out, the third round of games focussed in on the four players still vying for the last four playing spots of the ATP season. The maths was simple for Federer and Del Potro with the winner of that head to head joining Djokovic from that group. Group A however was less straight forward, Stanislav Wawrinka had to beat Ferrer and hope Berdych couldn’t beat Nadal for the first time since 2006, a staggering 16 games.
Wawrinka went about his end of the deal but it was not straight forward. Struggling with his first serve percentage in the opening set he threw away a 5-2 lead to eventually lose the set 6-7 in a tie-break. Ferrer who had openly admitted to playing too many games in recent weeks began to fade though and an improvement in Stan’s serve meant he was able to battle through. Despite the increase in unforced errors from Wawrinka who struggled to find his groove, Ferrer’s seventh tournament in as many weeks proved too much, as he went down 6-7 (3-6) 6-4 6-1. It was a sorry end to 2013 for Ferrer who has had a fantastic year though as he just burned out in the end and was noticeably frustrated as he screamed down the O2 arena. His racket didn’t get off lightly either.
It meant the Swiss number two then had to turn his attention to the evening game between Rafael Nadal and Tomas Berdych. Wawrinka could have been forgiven for celebrating prematurely, not just because he had won 2 out of his 3 games on his ATP Finals debut, only losing narrowly to Rafael Nadal. The other reason being that the chances of Tomas Berdych beating Rafael Nadal were slim to none. The Czech, Berdych, once held a 3-1 record over the number one Nadal.
Since then however he has lost a staggering 16 consecutive matches. This looked set to continue when Nadal broke in the first game and went on to win the set but Berdych had other ideas. Coming out strong in the second set he hounded Nadal and got an early break which followed a near perfect set of tennis, dropping just one game, and making just one unforced error he took the second.
You cannot go that many matches without a victory and not have a chip on your shoulder but you could sense the O2 arena trying to lift the 28 year old to overcome his torrid run. Despite a decent start to the set however the signs began to show that the curse of Nadal was beginning to get into Berdych’s head. Two unforgivable double faults including one on break point handed the impetus to Nadal who took it with both hands finishing the set with some devastating forehand winners.
In the other group the stipulations were far clearer. Basically a quarter final match between Del Potro and Federer to see who would join Djokovic, Nadal and Wawrinka. The first set went to plan for Del Potro who raced to two early breaks and then survived a break back from Federer to edge through 6-4 thanks to two aces to help him save another break point and take the first. The second was a tight affair throughout and it took a superb tie break from Federer to take it to a tense decider.
In the final set it was Del Potro breaking early after Federer began sluggishly yet again with two slack forehands giving the Argentine a head start. Federer soon rallied though to bite back and clinch a break of his own at the second time of asking. Late on Federer broke to give himself the chance to serve for the match which he did, saving a break point to win a deuce game with an ace, setting up a semi-final tie with long-time rival Rafael Nadal.
Djokovic will play Gasquet this evening in a dead rubber but the nitty gritty is out of the way and we move onto the season closing knockout games. Knockout games that may well set the landscape for next season and answer many questions. It will be the favourite in Novak Djokovic, the new number one in Rafael Nadal, the ever-present in Roger Federer and the underdog in Stanislas Wawrinka. Perfectly set-up you would have to say…