SHANGHAI, China -- Roger Federer has a new ATP Masters 1000 trophy to add to his collection. Federer defeated Gilles Simon 7-6 (6), 7-6 (2) to win the Shanghai Rolex Masters for the first time on Sunday. Federer overcame a sloppy start to beat Simon for the fifth straight time, capturing his fourth title of the season. With his win over the summer at the Western and Southern Open, Federer has now won back-to-back Masters 1000s in a season for the first time since 2006. Ranked as low as No. 8 earlier in the season, he will return to No. 2 on Monday, ahead of Rafael Nadal, with a shot at ending the season at No. 1.
"I have still so many highlights to look forward to for the end of the season, which is very nice," Federer said. "Usually everything slows down at the end of the season. Not for me this time."
After beating top-ranked Novak Djokovic in the semifinals on Saturday night, Federer vowed against coming out flat in the final. But that's precisely what he did. With the roof closed to start the match due to high winds, Federer was broken easily in his first service game in the first set. He struggled to find his range, shanking balls badly off both wings. The sloppy start gave Simon a 2-0 lead, which he hung on to until it came time to serve out the set at 5-4. He fell behind 15-40 and two points later put a lazy backhand into the net to give back the break and keep Federer in the set.
The momentum had swung. Federer went through a stretch of winning 17 of 21 points. Simon had to save two set points just to get to the tiebreaker but then found himself just a point away from securing the set. Simon led 6-5 with Federer serving but the Swiss saved it easily with a unreturnable serve. He followed that up with another big serve to earn his third set point and finally converted to steal the set.
The quality of play dipped in the second after Simon was treated for a hamstring injury, and the two found themselves once again locked in a tiebreaker after Federer saved two set points serving at 5-6, 15-40. This time Federer left nothing to chance. He raced away to a 7-2 win and let out a huge roar of triumph and relief. Just four days earlier he survived a game upset bid by Leonardo Mayer, saving five match points in his opening match to win.
Simon credited Federer's aggressive play and change in tactics, coming to the net more as the match wore on, for the win. Federer played the big points better, likely a result of the confidence he's built over the course of the season. Federer now leads the tour this year in match wins (61), hard court wins (45), Top 10 wins (13), ATP Masters wins (26), and final appearances (9). Having now captured Shanghai, Federer is missing just two Masters 1000s from his shelf: Monte Carlo and Rome, both on clay.
"I feel he's even more aggressive," Simon said when asked how Federer's game has changed over the years. "Before he really wanted to prove that he was the best on every part of the game. Sometimes he was too proud to change. Now it's not the case anymore. I feel today I was playing, for example, very good from the baseline. Then I could see that he was trying to come more often to the net, playing more serve and volley. He's realizing better what is happening on the court."
"I think losing a bit more has definitely opened my vision, my sight a little bit more of how I can manage those situations better and how I can stay more calm under pressure," Federer said. "I was great under pressure back in the day, but I always felt I was going to win somehow, whereas that's changed. I have to fight more now, or I feel like I have to fight more. It's almost more rewarding and a better feeling if you do win, coming through that way, having to change a bit."
Federer returns to Europe just 990 points behind Djokovic in the Race to London rankings, which offer a good gauge as to how the year-end rankings will shake out. He is set to play his hometown tournament in Basel, Switzerland but hasn't decided on whether he'll pay the ATP Masters 1000 in Paris-Bercy before the ATP World Tour Finals. "I need to look into that, how realistic it is or not," Federer said. "It's on Novak's racquet. He dictates. But nevertheless, I'm still going to be playing and hopefully playing well again."