Roger Federer is back on track at the ATP World Tour Finals, claiming a vital 6-2, 6-3 win over Dominic Thiem at the O2 Arena in London. The Swiss would have been eliminated from semifinal contention with a loss, but keeps himself in the running heading into the final round robin matches.
Thiem is all but eliminated from participating in the final four, the only avenue he has to advance being on a tiebreaker of percentage of games won overall. The Austrian is now 2-2 lifetime against Federer and 2-6 at the season-ending showpiece for his career.
Federer runs away with the first set
Thiem was under pressure on serve straightaway, facing a break point in the first game of the match, but a wide serve and cross court winner saved the chance and he would go on to hold.
Federer would have another opening at 15-30, but he ballooned a return long only to see Thiem net a return to set up another break point, taken after the Austrian overcooks a forehand down the line.
The Swiss was again on the attack, benefitting from a bushel of unforced errors from his Austrian rival as he gets to deuce, but his own return would let him down and Thiem would stay in touch at 3-2.
The sixth seed was a mess and the seventh game ended his chances of a comeback in the opening set, a duffed overhead, double fault and on break point, a misjudged volley hand Federer a second break and a 5-2 lead.
The Swiss was looking sharp on serve and although Thiem cracked a backhand winner, Federer would close out the game and set with an ace, the third consecutive service game he fired an ace to take the game.
Six-time champion eases to victory, keeps semi-final hopes alive
It went from bad to worse for the French Open finalist as he faced two break points in the opening game of the second set and overhit a forehand beyond the baseline to hand Federer the early initiative, the second seed winning his fourth game on the trot.
The Swiss continued to hold with ease, winning his following two service games to love and 15, respectively as he claimed a 3-1 lead. It was almost a double break lead as Thiem wasted a 40-15 lead, but his trademark backhand got him out of further difficulty.
Finally playing a routine service game with a hold to love, the Austrian was still behind by a break at 4-3 and wasn't looking to be threatening the Federer serve, the Swiss hammering down three more aces to get within a game of victory.
Thiem served to stay in the match, netting on the first point. Another mishit makes it 30-all, and he’s caught out by a looping return that drops in to bring up match point for Federer, saved, but a second match point sees the Austrian send a volley wide.
Federer speaks on impressive victory
"It feels good, I’m very happy that I showed a reaction", Federer said after the match. "I’m not used to losing and then coming back to play, it was a good test. Against Kei, it was four-all, we were both playing very badly, and I felt quite negative. That was a bit disappointing, and Kei played better in the end.
“Today I played a lot better, and it’s always a privilege to play here in London, and I tried to remember that. I felt pretty quickly that I was excited, I had the right kind of nerves. The whole round-robin format is quite unusual, now I feel like it’s win, or you go out.
"I could feel the rhythm, feel the flow in the legs, I wasn’t feeling hectic. I found my game much more quickly. You feel like you have more time, which is good for me.”
Federer's final round robin match will be against Kevin Anderson, the group leader who rallied from two sets down in their last meeting in the Wimbledon quarterfinals.
"I hope it is not a match like Kevin Anderson played this afternoon," Federer said. "It is never easy to play against him, especially indoors. I am happy I am getting a chance to play him again and have a rematch [from Wimbledon]."