THE MARCH TO O2, LONDON: ROGER FEDERER RISES

Mangled 69

The Paribas Masters, 2011 (at Bercy, Paris) has reached its conclusion. Roger Federer walked away with his third title of the year, and believe it or not, only his first ATP Masters event in 2011. It has been a barren year, yes, but that in no way suggests that the man isn’t playing good tennis. In fact, the kind of form he has been showing for the last two weeks has made him odds-on favorite to retain his World Tour Championships crown at O2. Scintillating groundstrokes apart, the Champion has served immaculately well in the final Masters event of the season, and now has his FIRST EVER win at this tournament. 10 attempts, and he didn’t even have a finals spot to show for his trouble- after winning all of the remaining 8 Masters events atleast once. This was a gaping hole in his CV, much like the French Open was, until 2009. 

The Next Safin?
 
The Paris Masters 2011 was an interesting tournament to watch- simply because it had a lot of players fighting for the final 3 spots at the season-ending Championships, and also saw the return of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic to mainstream tennis in 2 months. When Federer finally lifted the crown (a disastrous-looking mangled mishap of accidental wires put together- but never mind), one could sense the relief, and the utter joy that swept over the 16-time Grand-Slam winner. After Thomas Enquist and Edberg, Roger Federer also becomes only the third person to win the Paris Masters without dropping a single set- not a sign of a Champion’s steep decline, for sure. He also joins Agassi as only the second man to win BOTH the tournaments held in Paris- the French Open and the Paribas Masters 1000. One would have thought that, with infinite French Open titles to his name, Rafael Nadal would have easily pipped Roger to this record- but indoor hard courts aren’t exactly the Spaniard’s strengths. 
Few more statistics that concern the World Number 4 and greatest Tennis Player of all time- it was his 99th pro-level final, and his 69th win. It was his 18th Masters win, only ONE behind the all-time leader Rafael Nadal (who, not surprisingly, has won 14 of those on European Clay Courts). Mind-numbing numbers by any stretch of imagination, and Federer shows no signs of slowing down. He wants more, and he wants his Slams back, and the tearful trophy acceptance only drives home his desire to continue performing at the top level, for as long as his body allows him to. He still possesses that unique quality of having the ability to win over any ‘home’ crowd in any country- just because of the absolutely magnificent display of grace and gasp-inducing shots he produces on court. Tsonga was a home boy, but even the capacity crowd couldn’t stop themselves from breaking out into wild applause when Federer skipped back to pick up a lob, and caressed a back-hand without even looking back to check where the Frenchman was. That was it, if there was ever a sign. 6-1, 7-6 was the final score, it was still more of a contest than his flawless semi-final against big Czech Berdych was. 
Roger Federer beat two top-10 players back-to-back to win the title, and didn’t lack any sort of confidence. The title in London is his to lose now, with Djokovic too tired to bother and Nadal returning from yet another injury. Murray seems like the only real threat, and we all know what happens to the Brit when he is under pressure.
The Paris Masters also saw Tsonga, Berdych and Fish seal places in the top 8, thus winning spots at O2 for the prestigious season-ending title. Berdych, in particular, looked like a man inspired after he beat in-form Andy Murray, until he came up against a rampaging Federer. Tsonga looked his usual home-inspired self, until he encountered the greatest player of all time- playing at his very best. 
The one that got away
 
John Isner was the man that made most progress, reaching the semis and blowing 3 match points in typical American fashion against Tsonga- while the Indo Pak duo of Bopanna and Qureshi seem to have found their mojo and made a heroic late charge, beating 3 of the top 4 best-ranked double duos on their way to their first Paris title. They will also play their first season-ending Championships, and will look to end the dominance of the Bryans.
Onto O2 next week, where Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, Federer, Ferrer, Berdych, Tsonga and Fish will play eachother in an enthralling end to the season- in a round robin stage followed by semis and a final. Except Federer and Djokovic, nobody in the list has lifted the trophy- and hence, expect a lot of fresh, inspired legs running the distance- a far cry from the 2008 edition where 3 of the top 8 retired after their first game.

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