New Delhi: Six-time winner Roger Federer produced a brutal, dominating game to beat world number one Novak Djokovic in straight sets to enter the semi-final of 2015 ATP World Tour Finals, even as Kei Nishikori kept his hopes alive with a hard-fought three-sets win over Tomas Berdych on Tuesday in London.
In the first match second day of season finale in London's O2 Arena, the eighth-seeded Japanese player beat Berdych 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 in two hours and 24 minutes, to register his first win of the competition.
Nishikori, 25, failed to convert two break-point chances in the fifth game, but eventually got broke his eighth-seeded opponent in the eleventh game, then hold his serve to win the first set 7-5 in just over an hour mark.
Then, the Czech player, who is playing in his six straight season finale, regrouped well to win the second set in 35 minutes, despite losing his first service game. Berdych broke Nishikori back-to-back in the fourth and sixth games. Berdych reeled off a strong service game to wrap up the set and force the decider.
The third set started in expected lines, with both the players holding their respective serves. But in the eighth game, Nishikori broke the 2011 semi-finalist in the second chance to take a vital 5-3 lead. In the previous game, he was forced to save a break point against the 30-year-old Monte Carlo resident.
Nishikori, then, produced a near perfect service game to win the set and game. By virtue of the win, he now stands a chance to qualify for the semi-finals, if he manages to beat Federer on Thursday. That's the most he can do and wait for a favourable draw from the Djokovic-Berdych match.
With the defeat, Berdych is out of the contention for a last-four spot.
In the day's second Group Stan Smith match, top dogs Djokovic and Federer were pitted against each other, in a thrilling encounter of high-class tennis, with the 34-year-old Swiss beating the Serbian 7-5, 6-2.
The match started with Federer serving, Djokovic, like in his many recent matches, almost pulled off yet a first game break. But a cool and collected Federer saved a break point to keep it easier for him. In the 11th game, the Swiss maestro did recieved a break opportunity from an unexpected smash from the world number one, which just missed the baseline on Federer's forehand. The Serb rescued himself with an ace, but Federer got his second chance of the game, with a forehand shot from Djokovic crashing into the net. Then, an exquisite drop shot off a half-volley by the 17th-time Grand Slam winner meant the set belong to world number 3.
The first set lasted 45 minutes.
Riding on the momentum, Federer raced to a 0-40 lead in the first game of the second set, with Djokovic failing to play his percentage game. The world number, then, saved two break-points, but played on his sliced shot return into the net from a teasing return to concede the game.
In the very next game, Djokovic positioned himself into a good position, 15-40, thanks to an unforced error from the Swiss. The Serbian got his own break, with another forehand unforced error after an ace, to get back on the set and match.
Then, after a service hold each, the Federer broke the defending champion for the second time in the set, thanks to lucky backhand passing shot which just managed to hit his target after clipping the high part of the net. The game witnessed Djokovic's super coach Boris Becker missing from his box for a prolong time and his player talking to himself in an annoying fashion.
Federer produced a superior service game to consolidate the break to 5-2 in the second set.
Djokovic, who is quickly establishing himself as one of the greatest players, failed to keep his cool facing an usual straight sets defeat, and allowed his opponent to have another break point. But the Serbian a lengthy rally to get on another deuce, before taking advantage.
On a day with Federer on his physical, brutal best, Djokovic returned second best. The world number one sent his forehand cross-court shot long near, and conceded the match in one hour and 19 minutes.
With the straight sets win, Federer qualified for the semi-finals, forcing Djokovic to fight for the second spot against Nishikori. Djokovic needed a win today to qualify for the semi-finals with a match to spare.
Djokovic 2015 form is imperious, though. He has reached the final of 14 out of the 15 tournaments, winning 10 of those - including three Grand Slam finals., and of course runner-up in the other. Besides the Slams, he has also won 6 Masters 1000 events, becoming the first ever player on the ATP tour to do.
Djokovic plays Berdych in their third and final group match. A win will be enough for him to qualify for the semis.