Upsets on Day One of ATP finals on London.
Roger Federer failed to find his comfort zone in an opening test at the ATP Finals, with underdog Kei Nishikori scoring a 7-6(4), 6-3 upset win in their round-robin clash in London.
The Swiss who owns six trophies at the elite year-end event was caught out by his Asian opponent, with Nishikori sneaking the opening set in a tiebreaker before nullifying a Federer break early in the second and running out the winner.
Federer will now need to beat Dominic Thiem in a second match to stay in contention for the semi-finals; the top two finishers from each group stay alive into the weekend.
Thiem lost the opening match of the week 6-3, 7-6(10) to South African Kevin Anderson.
“I felt we both struggled throughout the first set,” Federer, who came to the court leading his opponent 7-2, said.
“I had my chances maybe a bit more than he did. I started to feel better in the second set, the level went up.”
“Unfortunately I couldn’t keep the lead that I got early. That was important at the end.”
Nishikori’s surprise victory was revenge after losing twice in the past month to Federer in Shanghai and Paris Bercy.
“I was glad to win against my idol, the play my idol,” the 28-year-old said. “It was not an easy first match.
“After losing so much to Roger I had to change things in my game. I played good tennis with an aggressive forehand,
“Things started working for me as I tried to put some pressure on him. I had some lucky points but I played well today.”
Federer found himself facing two match point as Nishikori brought the proceedings to an unexpected close.
The 37-year-old Swiss saved the first but returned out on the second.
The experienced Federer will look to settle quickly in his second match on Tuesday.
“I’ve been feeling fine. It’s just that practice has been a bit all over the place.
“I practised in Queen’s, practised on the outside courts here, then the centre as well. It’s not always exactly the same conditions.”
“I thought I’m hitting the ball okay. Warm-up today was totally fine.
“Maybe we both had a bit of nerves, too, not knowing how to attack second serve. It’s okay now, now that the first match is out of the way.”
South Africa’s Wimbledon finalist four months ago, needed one and three quarter- hours to post his seventh win over his Austrian Opponent. the reigning Roland Garros runner-up.
Anderson had to fight through a second-set tiebreaker, firing the last three of his 13 aces on the afternoon as he took victory on a fourth match point with an untouchable serve.
“Just getting off to a good start helped me a lot today,” Anderson said. “I definitely felt a little bit nervous. “
“But I was able to settle very quickly and find a really good rhythm, taking care of my serve games nicely, created quite a few opportunities on his serve.
“The second set could have been anybody’s set. He started serving well. I was taking care of my serve games. When it’s 12-10 in the tiebreak, it really could have gone either way.”
Though Thiem had lost his first six matches against Anderson, the Austrian had won both of their encounters this season, in Madrid and New York.
Thiem is playing for a third consecutive edition at the year-ender, finishing 1-2 in both of his previous appearances.
“I didn’t have a good start, at the beginning I was trying to return on a similar position than in New York (beating Anderson in the fourth round),” Thiem said.
“It was not working out at all. I had no chance basically in the first set to break him. I was in trouble almost every service game.
“So the first set was not really good.
“The second was a very good set of tennis, I would say. it was just one little ball here and there – that’s why I lost at the end.”
The eight-man event is missing world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who underwent ankle surgery this week while Argentine Juan Martin del Potro, who also qualified, had to drop out with a knee injury suffered in Shanghai during a fall on court.
Anderson, the 2017 US open finalist to Nadal, is the second first-time qualifier playing at this edition, the tenth at London’s O2 arena.
Also making a debut is American John Isner, who entered the field thanks to the pullouts of Nadal and Del Potro.