For Federer, a perfect finish to the year

Roger Federer... fourth Masters title.-AP

Roger Federer’s command performance leaves David Ferrer in the dark, writes Steve Bierley.

When David Ferrer refused to take training seriously as a junior, his coach, Javier Piles, used to lock him in a small cupboard and refused to let him out. How the 25-year-old Spaniard must have yearned for the anonymity of that darkened space on November 18. Having played superbly to reach the final of the Tennis Masters Cup unbeaten, Ferrer was outclassed by Roger Federer, the world No. 1, who crushed him 6-2, 6-3, 6-2.

At least Ferrer could console himself with the thought that better players have been similarly dismissed in both Grand Slam finals, of which Federer has won 12, and in this tournament, won for the fourth time by the Swiss. Ferrer had arrived in China as the least known of the world’s top eight players but endeared himself to the Chinese with his fighting displays. It was just a pity that when it mattered the most he was overwhelmed, though that applied equally to his fellow Spaniard and world No. 2, Rafael Nadal, who was beaten 6-4, 6-1 by Federer in the semi-finals.

If Ferrer’s unexpected run could be seen as a fanfare for the common man, then Federer, after a sticky opening when he lost his first round-robin match against Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez, drew on his cloak of invincibility as the tournament reached its climax and once more bestrode the tennis world like a colossus. “I proved to myself and the world that I can do it over and over again,” he said.

Federer pocketed £600,000 for this latest win, his 53rd singles title, taking his prize money for the year to a record £4.3m plus a bit of spare change. It would be ridiculous to say the money does not matter, although it is those marks he is making in the record books that are dearest to his heart. Only Ilie Nastase (four), Ivan Lendl (five) and Pete Sampras (five) had previously won this end-of-season tournament four times or more.

The majority of the tennis fraternity await Federer winning the French Open in order to compare him properly with Rod Laver.

David Ferrer... falling at the last hurdle.-

Suffice it to say that the world No. 1 is indisputably the best player of his generation, possessing an amalgam of power and grace that ensures the memory of him will always remain vivid to all who saw him. While sport obviously thrives on close match-ups and shocks, it is always thrilling to see a player of Federer’s brilliance at the top of his game as he was in Shanghai, against Andy Roddick — whom he again pulverised 6-4, 6-2 — Nadal and Ferrer. “Finishing off the best players in the world in the Masters Cup, it’s always a great experience for me,” the Swiss said.

Indeed, when Federer is the slightest bit off, it is possible to feel short-changed, as when he lost twice against David Nalbandian recently in Madrid and Paris. As a consequence the whisperers were out in force when the Swiss lost his opening round-robin match against Gonzalez. Federer admitted to hearing them and took particular pleasure in silencing those who were suggesting he was vulnerable. “If I keep this level of play up, I’m in a great position for next year as well.”

Federer, who had previously beaten Ferrer seven times, acknowledged that the biggest difference in the Spaniard’s approach this year, during which he has risen to a career-high No. 5, was his greater mental strength: “He used to get down on himself very quickly.” The Swiss has a happy propensity for turning an opponent’s strength into weaknesses and he hit the Qi Zhong court running, rattling off the opening set in a mere 26 minutes. Ferrer tried desperately to exclude negative thoughts but he was already a candidate for the psychiatrist’s chair.

At the end of the second set the disconsolate Spaniard, who reached the U.S. Open semi-finals this year, snapped his racquet over his thigh as he took his seat.

That was easy; breaking Federer proved impossible. A Spanish trumpeter in the crowd tried to inspire him but it was Federer who orchestrated every move to within a demi-semi-quaver.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007