LONDON -- Even without playing his best, Roger Federer advanced out of round-robin play at the ATP World Tour Finals with a 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory over No. 5 David Ferrer on Thursday. Federer reached the semifinals for the 10th time in 11 appearances, extended his winning streak at the year-end tournament to 12 dating to 2010, and clinched his first 70-win season since he won 92 matches in 2006.
This wasn't Federer at his finest, especially compared to his form throughout a year in which he won Wimbledon for his first Grand Slam title since the 2010 Australian Open and reclaimed the No. 1 ranking for the first time in two years. No matter, as he still held off Ferrer to snap his 11-match winning streak. I guess that's what happens when you've firmly lodged yourself into your opponent's mind.
Ferrer, the only other 30-plus-year-old player in the field, has never beaten Federer in his 12-year career. Sure, a lot of players have gone winless against the Swiss. But Ferrer came into this match 0-13, with 10 straight-set losses. For the most part, the matches haven't been close -- only one saw a tiebreaker -- and so when it came to facing Federer for the 14th time, Ferrer conceded beforehand that he was on the losing side of a matchup issue. The grinding Spaniard simply doesn't have the power to hit through Federer, and his serve, which relies on placement over power, is always attackable, especially by Federer. Add the fact that Ferrer, one of the best returners in the game, admits he can't seem to return Federer's serve effectively and, well, it's a recipe for disaster.
Ferrer was a man resigned, despite having a career year with an ATP-leading seven titles and 73 match victories, including 30 or more wins on both clay and hard courts, the first player to accomplish that feat since Rafael Nadal five years ago.
"Roger Federer, he's an unbelievable player," Ferrer said. "So maybe because the difference with him is because he's better than me, no?"
Any hopes of a "Nobody beats Ferrer 14 times in a row" upset were snuffed out immediately at the O2 Arena, where Ferrer had three break points in the first game but couldn't convert. His best chance came on the third break point of the game, when Ferrer earned a short mid-court ball, hit it deep to Federer's backhand corner and approached the net. Federer took two steps, coolly redirected it down the line for the winner and eventually held. Federer's ability to save break points was the story of the match, as Ferrer was able to get deep into Federer's service games but cashed in only one of 10 chances.
Ferrer's lack of belief is really a shame. With Federer mistiming and mishitting his backhand frequently (he had 39 unforced errors and 28 winners overall), Ferrer had his chance to catch the Indoor Master on an off day. But a combination of ill-timed double faults and unforced errors on his forehand let Federer off the hook.
"He's the best of the history," Ferrer said after the match. "He can do everything with his game. He has a very good slice, very good serve when he needs. He has a lot of weapons to do pain [to] my game."
Now that Federer has clinched his spot in the semifinals, he said he can spend his last round-robin match, against Juan Martin del Potro, fine-tuning his game. That might just be what Federer needs, as he's struggled with the rhythm on his serve all week. He'll have to play better in the semis, where he'll likely face Andy Murray or Tomas Berdych.
A few more thoughts from Day 4 of the World Tour Finals:
• Federer the indoor GOAT: Federer was asked whether he thought it would be more fair to rotate the surface used for the World Tour Finals every year, moving from indoor hard, outdoor hard, clay, indoor clay, etc. "No, I think it's OK indoors, to be honest," he said.
The media broke out laughing and Federer quickly caught on as to why. Smiling, Federer -- who has won 20 indoor titles -- quipped, "Not because of me."
"I think indoors is a natural surface for me," he said. "I've been very successful over the years. Probably won most titles indoors, maybe more than all the other guys combined. But that doesn't make me the best this week."
• Radek Stepanek and Leander Paes qualify for semifinals: The Australian Open champs secured their spot with a 7-5, 6-4 win over Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez. Stepanek and Paes are a weirdly fun team to watch. Mainly for their post-point celebrations. Look, if I had to watch Leander Paes dance in slow motion, you do too.
• Group A qualification scenarios: "Paging Nate Silver. Nate Silver, can you please report to the O2 Arena, stat!" No one has sealed a semifinal berth from Group A yet, which means Friday should feature an exciting day of live rubbers, as Novak Djokovic, Murray, Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga try to lock down their spots. Djokovic is the group leader at 2-0, Murray and Berdych are 1-1, and Tsonga is 0-2. There are a multitude of scenarios, but here are the clearest ones:
Djokovic: Just needs to win one set against Berdych to clinch his spot in the semis.
Murray: If he beats Tsonga in straight sets, he's in. If he loses a set, he needs Djokovic to take a set off Berdych. If he loses two sets to one, he needs Djokovic to beat Berdych. If he loses in straight sets, he's out.
Berdych: If he beats Djokovic in straight sets, he's in. If he loses a set, he needs Tsonga to beat Murray in straight sets. If he wins in three sets, he needs Tsonga to beat Murray. If he loses in straight sets, he's out.
Tsonga: Has to beat Murray in straight sets and hope Djokovic beats Berdych in straight sets. Anything else and he's out.
Did you get all that? • Stat of the day: With his win over Ferrer, Federer improved to 102-1 against 30-and-over opponents since losing to Andre Agassi in 2002. His only loss in that 10-year span was to 34-year-old Tommy Haas in Halle last summer.